COLORADO SPRINGS — A Colorado coalition is hoping to get a proposal on the November ballot that would raise taxes on recreational marijuana to fund tutoring, after-school, and mental health programs.
Learning Opportunities for Colorado’s Kids is spearheading the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) program or Initiative 25 to help children make up for pandemic-related learning loss and address the needs of disadvantaged students. The measure would ask voters for a five percent excise tax increase on recreational marijuana which would raise an estimated $137 million annually for educational programs. It would also create the Colorado Learning Authority within the state education department to oversee them.
"I think it's one of the most innovative ideas I've seen in a long time. I'm really excited to see the bipartisan support it's generating across the entire state," said Luke Ragland, President of Ready Colorado.
He says the organization supports the ballot initiative, and it's a new type of proposal that the state hasn't seen in a while.
"Just getting kids on the same track that they were before the pandemic is not good enough. We actually have to help make kids whole and give them extra support to get them where they were before the pandemic. The pandemic impacted everyone differently and impacted communities differently so I think LEAP which is based on parental choice and education is something that could go a long way to help get kids caught up," said Ragland.
While it is a fairly new proposal, he says it does a good job of creating accountability on how the funds will be spent.
"I think it creates specificity in terms of making sure that the money is properly managed, stewarded, and put toward good uses," said Ragland. "When Colorado legalized marijuana, I think the deal that they were striking in their mind is that revenue from marijuana would go to support educational initiatives. I think the LEAP initiative falls neatly into line with the constitutional amendment that Coloradans passed to legalize marijuana."
"The initiative is dishonest with its presentation. They start out by saying it's for every child, and then you don't have to get pretty deep when they begin to discriminate against certain children and or families. So anytime that you lie on page one then clearly there is something wrong. Second, it creates a bureaucracy and we have plenty of bureaucracy and then it creates it within the department of education. It already manages multi-billion dollar budgets and all this does is create another one of those, a group that is unaccountable to voters. Third, it utilizes syntax so what it does is discriminate against marijuana users," said Jeff Kemp, Colorado Springs parent.
Kemp says this is another opportunity for the government to embed themselves more into everyday life, and pursuing choice. He says the language of the initiative isn't very clear on how the educational programs will be implemented.
"None of the programs in the initiative are defined. It just says it's going to help with interventions, doesn't say what the interventions are, and doesn't detail the programs. It says the rule-makers will be the deciders thereof and there has to be some certification of the people who can do it. None of that is set in stone, not even close. It just says we'll have programs. It doesn't say how the partnerships must occur so all you need is another bureaucracy or government program that agrees to partner and since the requirements aren't decided on by the voters, they can tweak the qualifications however they see fit. Then all of a sudden you have money going into something that has nothing to do with education," said Kemp.
He says the LEAP program could benefit the kids who access the program, but they already exist.
"Perhaps they are not codified under one umbrella but it is under CDE. I mean you can do all of these things, but the education budget isn't the place to do all of these things. If you want to access counseling services then go to the counseling professionals. Do it that way so it stays clean, most effective, and doesn't cause mission drift with people that provide education," said Kemp.
Initially, the Colorado Education Association supported Initiative 25, but recently withdrew its support. They are now neutral to the measure.
“Throughout the pandemic, educators have been nothing short of heroic in their efforts to ensure students have what they need to be successful, despite all of the roadblocks thrown their way. Unfortunately, despite those heroic efforts, some students need additional supports to help them keep up with their classes.
“Initiative #25 creates the LEAP program that could support students outside of normal school hours with additional educational services such as after-school tutoring, summer science camps, and supplemental special-education support to help students succeed back in their classrooms. This program is targeted towards students from low-income families who need them the most and who often cannot access additional services due to cost barriers.
“LEAP is structured to value educators and districts as pre-certified providers of additional services and input on decisions made by the new statewide board. The structure is a service-provider model where families can select services from a variety of certified providers but all financial support goes directly to the provider. CEA initially supported Initiative #25 and appreciate the outreach by proponents in helping to craft this measure but as with any new program there are general concerns and uncertainties about implementation that gave us pause. CEA is now neutral on the measure.
“Fundamentally, though, Colorado must do better in funding our schools. While this program does not harm or reduce funding for our students and schools, it highlights a need that greater support during school hours would help students succeed. Fully funding our public schools would eliminate the need for the state to consider creative and alternative ways to fund critical services for students.”
"I have a lot of confidence in the ballot initiative and independent board that will steward the funds and provides some accountability. We've got a lot of educators across the state who are supporting the initiative and excited about it. Everything from STEM programs in Grand Junction and schools that focus on autism and children with special needs," said Ragland.
Learning Opportunities for Colorado’s Kids has until August 2 to turn in 124,632 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office for verification.