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Colorado marijuana tax hike proposal moves closer to November ballot

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Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 30, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS — More than 200,000 signatures have been submitted to the state in support of a measure that would hike sales tax on recreational marijuana to fund tutoring, after-school, and mental health programs.

The Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) program which is also known as Initiative 25 exceeded the 124,632 signatures required to get on the November ballot.

"The more than 200,000 signatures we submitted today underscore the broad level of support for the measure to help close the opportunity gap that exists throughout Colorado," said Heidi Ragsdale, CEO, with STEM is my Future in Grand Junction. "We want Colorado kids to be able to get the help they need and pursue out-of-school opportunities that help them grow as learners and citizens."

"We fully expect it to be approved in November. It's a very bipartisan supported effort, we have endorsements from former governors Bill Ritter and Bill Owens. Groups like the Colorado Children's Campaign, said Monica-Colbert Burton, Campaign Representative for LEAP.

If approved in November, the measure would ask voters for a five percent tax increase on recreational marijuana to provide funding for out-of-school learning programs, including tutoring and career and technical education-training programs, among others. It would also create the Colorado Learning Authority within the state education department to oversee them.

"The beauty of LEAP is that the Authority is not expected to run the programs. It's a partnership between existing programs and newly launched programs that are already running and serving kids in the community," said Colbert-Burton. "It can fund anything from tutoring to enrichment camps like art camps, music camps, and math camps. Anything that a student can identify as a gap in their learning."

While there are marijuana funds allocated directly to education, she says they don't go to programs.

"It is very separate from what LEAP dollars will do, and it's a very targeted stream of revenue that is capital focused. These dollars are intended to provide programmatic dollars for families to be used out of school," said Colbert-Burton.

"A lot of people believe cannabis tax dollars are going to schools, but really it goes to schools related to the infrastructure. It goes to if you need an air conditioner," said Sen. Rhonda Fields, (D) Aurora.

She's one of my legislators supporting the measure.

"Throughout Colorado, we have a persistent education gap between the rich and poor, between those who have access to tutors, technology, and other out-of-school tools and those who do not,” said Fields. “Those disparities were made abundantly clear during the pandemic, and we must act now to address them.”

Opponents argue Initiative 25 could pave the way for school voucher programs.

"This is a voucher program that takes public dollars out of our public schools and hands it to outside organizations that have no accountability. Do not have to be transparent, and can discriminate against families and children," said Cindra Barnard, President of the Taxpayers for Public Education.

Any tax dollars raised, she believes should go directly to public schools.

"Where spending is transparent, where accountability is a given, and our professional educators are teaching our children. That these opportunities are available to all children, not just the chosen few which is what a voucher does. There is no threat of discrimination from our public schools Initiative 25 creates a mechanism to privatize our education system," said Barnard.

She says there is no assurance that the Colorado Learning Authority won't discriminate against families.

"We don't know who that group is, and we don't know who those providers are, but there is nothing to stop those providers from discriminating against children," said Barnard.

Proponents of the measure say it's a long-term solution for the achievement gap in the state.

"Going the ballot route it gives us a long term or permanent solution as oppose to band-aiding a problem that's been a problem for a long time," said Colbert-Burton.

The Secretary of State’s office will review the petitions to determine that at least 124,632 valid signatures were submitted for the measure, and then approve the statutory initiative for the ballot