(This is part 4 of a series. It is highly recommended to read the previous op-eds.)
Proponents have told half-truths to gain momentum for support of Proposition 119: LEAP, Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program. Proposition 119 advocates for a NEW, parallel, blended, government run out-of-school learning and healthcare access program for “eligible children,” not all Colorado children. This new bureaucratic authority will be governed by an unelected and unaccountable board funded from state land board dollars and a new state retail marijuana tax.
Our students are falling behind their applicable grade level proficiency in math and reading in the current public school system. Our students are falling behind in their academic potential. The COVID-19 reaction exacerbated the poor educational achievement by our students. Proposition 119, LEAP, will appear on the November 2, 2021 ballot. LEAP is not the answer to poor student performance noted in current K-12 state educational data. The proposition ignores the core problem in public education today, the continued underachievement of our students and the continued rapid pace they are falling behind.
The ballot question appears as follows:
SHALL STATE TAXES BE INCREASED $137,600,000 ANNUALLY ON RETAIL MARIJUANA SALES BY A CHANGE TO THE COLORADO REVISED STATUTES CONCERNING THE CREATION OF A PROGRAM TO PROVIDE OUT-OF-SCHOOL LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLORADO CHILDREN AGED 5 TO 17, AND, IN CONNECTION THEREWITH, CREATING AN INDEPENDENT STATE AGENCY TO ADMINISTER THE PROGRAM FOR OUT-OF-SCHOOL LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES CHOSEN BY PARENTS; FUNDING THE PROGRAM BY INCREASING THE RETAIL MARIJUANA SALES TAX BY 5% BY 2024 AND REALLOCATING A PORTION OF THE PUBLIC SCHOOL LANDS INCOME; AUTHORIZING TRANSFERS AND REVENUE FOR PROGRAM FUNDING AS A VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE; SPECIFYING THAT LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES INCLUDE TUTORING AND EXTRA INSTRUCTION IN SUBJECTS INCLUDING READING, MATH, SCIENCE, WRITING, MUSIC, AND ART, TARGETED SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS AND LEARNING DISABILITIES, CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION TRAINING, AND OTHER ACADEMIC OR ENRICHMENT OPPORTUNITIES; AND PRIORITIZING PROGRAM FINANCIAL AID FOR LOW-INCOME STUDENTS? <
There is plenty to digest here. Let’s start with the retail marijuana sales tax. The Fiscal Note prepared by the Legislative Council projects this tax to generate $137.7 million in revenue for Fiscal Year 2024-25. The revenue amount is based on a 5% sales tax. Presently the state retail marijuana tax is 15%. The additional 5% tax will increase the state retail total tax up to 20% by 2024, which will move many marijuana buyers to the illegal market. In doing so, this high tax will hurt legal marijuana businesses and will increase crime in our communities. It’s important to note that this is a 33% increase in the marijuana tax. This is an extreme regressive tax. Table 1 in the 2021 State Ballot Information Booklet, page 12, clearly exhibits household incomes making less than $49,999 will pay almost half of the anticipated marijuana tax for the budget year 2024-25 at $61.7 million. The “eligible children” in the LEAP program will be in the family income bracket of $49,999 or below. Why take money away from these families to pay for LEAP? Instead, let families choose how to spend their own money on services that they choose for their children and family without government control or coercion.
The out-of-school “Learning Opportunities For Colorado Children Aged 5 to 17” is only for “Eligible Children” in Colorado. The proposition states the program is created for:
The distribution of financial aid on behalf of eligible children or youth in Colorado to be used for Learning Opportunities.
The children in Colorado are then ranked according to income brackets starting with:
… Financial aid must be distributed first to eligible children or youth who reside in households
that are at or below one hundred percent of the federal poverty level.
If supporters truly wanted to help failing academic achievement of our students the proposition would allocate funds according to decline in grades based on grade point average allowing the students with the most academic needs priority instead of income level. The children who are eligible for this program are prioritized according to income meaning low-income students will be given precedence over all other Colorado children. Knowing that an “eligible” student will receive multiple-year financial aid at a minimum of $1500/year for a minimum of three years “regardless of any changes to the family’s income level,” the number of students and families who will be able to participate in this program is limited. In fact, some believe that this program will serve approximately 72,000 children out of the 883,000 plus students in Colorado.
The proposition does create an independent state agency, so independent that it is unelected and held unaccountable to no one and no entity. The Colorado Department of Education does not have any control over it. Governor Polis will appoint all nine members to the “Authority.” When a member’s term expires, the member can name her/his successor. The proposition does state that there is a mandatory audit, but the “Authority” is the one who chooses the auditor. What could wrong with that? This is extreme growth of government put in the hands of bureaucrats, and gives an enormous amount of control and power to a very small, select group of people. This flies in the face of representative government as there is no transparency and lacks accountability to the taxpayers.
Funding, as discussed above, is generated by the new marijuana tax. It also is funded from the state land trust. The state public school system receives 98% of the state land trust revenue. Will funding be withdrawn from the state public school system and redirected to LEAP? Additionally, funding flows through the General Fund. Our state legislators have a history of reapportioning funds. Is it possible that funds in the General Fund will be reapportioned to LEAP in the future, therefore it will not only be marijuana users paying for LEAP but all state taxpayers?
On the note of finances, the proposition allows the Authority to authorize lending, and to accept gifts and grants. Will “Interested Parties” enter through the back door? The proposition states:
The Authority may seek, accept, and expend any gifts, grants, donations, loans of funds, property, or any other revenue or aid in any form from the federal government, the state, any state agency, any other public source, any private source, or any combination thereof, and any such monetary receipts must be credited to the fund and any such in-kind receipts must be applied for the benefit of the fund.
The ballot question continues with specific activities and instructional services for LEAP “eligible children.” This includes tutoring, music, art, targeted support for children with special needs and learning disabilities and other enrichment opportunities. Services for students and their families can only be chosen from a pre-selected menu of vendors approved by the Authority. Will “Interested Parties” connected to the “Authority” receive preferential priority to be on the pre-selected list of services? Parents can “choose” the educational provider for their child as long as the educational provider is pre-approved by the Authority board. LEAP is not about parental choice.
All vendors that are pre-approved are paid directly by The Authority. The money never touches the parents/guardians. What processes will be in place to ensure that there is not overbilling or inaccurate billing for services if the parents/guardians are not involved? Additionally, although the LEAP Program has a maximum 10% administrative expense cap, there is no such administrative cap for vendors detailed in the proposition.
The ballot question regarding activities has one very important omission from the complete fourteen-page proposition (the length of the proposition is another reason to vote no): LEAP will give “eligible children”
Emotional and physical therapy, mental health services, social-emotional learning, mentoring, and other services that support students in their pursuit of a holistic and meaningful education.
Why leave these important services out of the ballot question? It is important for voters to know exactly what they are voting for. What else has been left out? Where is the transparency? The Legislative Council Staff on its Fiscal Note has recorded $55.8 million in anticipated expenditures for the Fiscal Year 2021-22, which is essentially the six-month period January, 2022 through June 30, 2022. Why have the proponents not been transparent in stating who will be paid this $55.8 million? Who is on the list for “Grants to LEAP Providers?”
You as a voter must do your homework. Know what you are voting for. Read the ballot proposition. At the end of this op-ed, you will find additional resources as to why a NO vote is necessary on Proposition 119, previously known as Initiative 25. Proposition 119 creates a new, parallel, government-run school system that will be dictated by an Authority that will be unelected and unaccountable to the voters in every activity. This is not the answer to our students’ underperformance as it does not address academic underachievement in the public school system. It certainly will not provide a path to academic success for ALL our students. Instead, this proposition will grow the role of PBI’s, Politicians, Bureaucrats and Interested Parties. LEAP is cronyism at its pinnacle. LEAP is under the guise of “for the children.” Vote NO on Proposition 119.
Ballot Initiative 25: LEAP
Colorado Initiative 25: A LEAP of Blind Faith!
LEAP From Dot to Dot and Where Do You Land?
Ten Reasons to Decline to Sign Colorado Initiative 25: LEAP
LEAP Into Higher Taxes: Colorado Initiative 25
For additional information on the November 2, 2021 ballot, please visit The Kim Monson Show, We the People Voters Guide: