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Colorado voters reject marijuana tax hike for after-school tutoring programs

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage

Colorado voters were not convinced the state should gradually raise taxes on marijuana sales to pay for tutoring programs aimed at reversing learning loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The failure of Proposition 119 bucks a trend in recent years where Colorado residents largely supported so-called sin taxes to pay for education programs.

Last year, they supported raising the price of cigarettes and vaping products to fund a variety of government programs, including education.

But Proposition 119 proved to be more controversial.

Curtis Hubbard, a spokesperson for the yes on 119 campaign, says he thinks a combination of factors led to the failure of the ballot measure.

"Democrats rallied against the school choice element, Republicans objected to the thought of a tax increase and in an off-year election dominated by older voters, there just weren't enough parents and voters in the middle to get us to the 50 percent plus one," he said. "The thing that I'm taking heart in is that hundreds of thousands of voters actually did support this effort to help close the opportunity gap. And I think for us, the mission moving forward is to continue building our coalition."

Proposition 119 did not earn the backing of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and other educators who questioned how the tutoring programs would be managed.

There were also concerns about a portion of the ballot measure that would have diverted $21 million each year from the State Land Trust Fund, which currently funds public schools.

Judy Solano, a retired schoolteacher and former Democratic state legislator from Brighton, became one of the lead critics of the measure.

“We see this as a scam, basically,” she said last month. It's actually taking $21 million every year and more out of the school, out of the state land trust funds, which were specifically set aside… only for public schools. So what this LEAP, this learning enrichment and academic progress program, would do is divert $21 million from those funds into this new bureaucracy.”

Supporters argued thousands of Colorado students need some extra tutoring because the coronavirus pandemic kept them out of classrooms last year.

The campaign also had the backing of several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“We’re in desperate need of figuring out answers for kids,” state Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said during the campaign. “Kids in a geometry class here (in Loveland), most of them failed geometry during the hybrid year, and they desperately need help so that we are not finding that are further and further and further behind.”

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.
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