PUEBLO WEST, Colorado — Colorado set another record in 2021 with more than $2.2 billion in marijuana sales. All of that commerce translated to around $423 million in state revenue from taxes and fees.
One of the most visible uses of marijuana taxes for schools is the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program. It was launched in 2008 and has awarded more than $3.5 billion in grants to help repair or replace aging schools around the state.
"Funds are available to all Colorado public schools. So, district schools, charter schools, boards of cooperative educational services, and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind," explained Andy Stine, the Director of Capital Construction for the Colorado Department of Education.
The program receives funding from the Colorado Lottery, the Colorado Land Board, and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers from growers to stores.
"A few years ago marijuana excise tax did surpass state land board revenues coming into the program at about $80 million from the marijuana excise tax and about $75 million coming from the state land board," Stine said.
Students and staff at Swallows Charter Academy in Pueblo West just wrapped up their second school year in their new building that was paid for with a BEST grant. Swallows is a K-12 campus and the state money paid for a $20 million building to house the Kindergarten through 8th grades.
"I feel like we have a building that each and every Spartan can be proud of and whether they're kindergarten or 12th grade," said Dr. Cindy Compton, Executive Director of Swallows Charter Academy.
The need often exceeds the money available for BEST grant awards. So, the board gives priority to applications where the health, safety, and security of students are at the greatest risk.
Compton said her grant author Dr. Kathryn Meyer applied for six years in a row before the school received the funding in 2018.
"Before the grant, we were in seven different buildings at one time. Many of them were modulars and some were modulars that were put together in a larger facility and then we were in an old grocery store," she said.
Colorado also collects a special 15 percent excise sales tax charge when marijuana customers pay at check out.
"It gets divvied up into different places based upon statutory requirements," explained Jennifer Okes, Chief Operating Officer for the Colorado Department of Education.
The Department of Revenue splits that sales tax 90/10 with the local governments where the taxes are collected. The remaining 90 percent is then split three ways between the General Fund, the State Public School Fund, and the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.
Okes explained that multiple state laws dictate where money from the Marijuana Cash Tax Fund can be spent.
"It might be bullying prevention, it might be dropout prevention," Okes said. "There is whole host of grant programs, but again those are very kind of niche programs."
The most recent appropriations report from the Joint Budget Committee of the state legislature lists 68 different programs that received money from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE FISCAL YEAR 2021-22 APPROPRIATIONS REPORT. (SEE APPENDIX E5)
This article has been updated to reflect that total spending on the BEST grant program is $3.5 billion. It also corrected a grammatical error in Mr. Stine's title.
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