DENVER (CBS4) – A state senator is introducing the biggest school reform in Colorado in 20 years, and it all hinges on voters approving a billion dollar tax increase — likely on income.

It’s a big tax increase for big changes. The bill is 175 pages long. CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd sat down with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, to talk about what exactly the bill would do.

It’s been a long time since Colorado changed the way it funds schools — too long, according to Johnston.

“When this school finance was written, you or I did not have an email account, a cellphone, or access to Internet,” Johnston said.

Johnston’s legislation comes after a billion dollars in cuts to K-12 in four years, and because of an array of overlapping constitutional provisions, schools that can least afford it have been hit hardest.

While the state constitution protects base funding for education, it doesn’t protect funding streams like those for at-risk children and rural districts.

“Which just means in the toughest times you have the toughest populations taking the biggest hits,” Johnston said.

He says his bill would change the way dollars are doled out to make the system more equitable. All schools would see an increase, but poorer districts more than wealthier ones. He insists he’s not asking for a blank check. Every school would have to account for the money it receives.

“I think what parents and taxpayers want to see is not just generally how much money we spend, but what are those dollars directly going to,” Johnston said. “Of the $6,500 that goes to support my student’s education, how is that spent? Is $120 spend on transportation and $150 spent on cafeteria and $200 spent on intervention systems; and what are those intervention systems?”

The measure would also give individual schools more control over their dollars.

“What we’ve heard really clearly from voters, parents … they want more dollars to go directly to the schools and to the classrooms where their kids are. And they want more of those dollars to be controlled by adults who work in that building, so teachers and principals can say, ‘You know what? We know we have this third grade group of kids that needs a lot of extra help. We should add an extra teacher for this group.’ “

There’s money for full-day kindergarten for all children, preschool for at-risk children, special education, gifted and talented, and English language learners. That’s if voters approve a billion dollar tax increase.

Johnston has already spent two years building support.

“I think our chances are very strong,” he said. “If we can help get 880,000 kids in this state a far better chance at the dreams that they have when they walk into kindergarten, it’ll be worth more than the two years of my life.”

One reason Johnston feels confident is he’s held public meetings in 140 of the 178 school districts in Colorado. He says he has support not only from parents and educators, but the business community.


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