It's ironic that at a time when the state is struggling to figure out how to pay for public education, the House majority leader is trying to outlaw Steamboat Springs' half-cent sales tax for education.
Last week, state Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, introduced a school finance bill that included a one-sentence provision barring school districts from accepting money generated or donated by another governmental entity, such as a city or county. The provision was aimed specifically at Steamboat Springs, which has collected a citywide, voter-approved half-cent sales tax for education since 1993.
On Monday, amendments to the school finance bill will be offered, including one by state Rep. Al White, that would eliminate King's provision.
We think members of the House Education Committee should support White's amendment. Given the current fiscal challenges, lawmakers should be looking to emulate Steamboat's sales-tax program in other communities, not destroy it. King's provision needlessly penalizes Steamboat schoolchildren and undermines the concept of local control.
King argues that the sales tax is unfair, that it gives Steamboat an advantage that poorer school districts do not have. But King ignores Steamboat's high cost of living. The cost of providing education in Steamboat is significantly higher than it is in most districts. So fairness means Steamboat has to raise and spend more.
King also argues that school districts are prohibited by law from instituting sales taxes for revenue and that the Steamboat program skirts that law.
But the Steamboat tax is not a school-district tax. The community initiated the measure, and the Education Fund Board oversees the funds. The Education Fund Board presents gifts to the school district each year to be used for specific purposes decided by the fund board, not the school district. State law allows school districts to accept donations, gifts and grants as revenue.
It should be noted that King also has filed legislation that would give the state the power to create charter schools when school districts refuse to cooperate. That legislation was partly in response to Steamboat's refusal to obey a State Board of Education order to create a Montessori charter school.
Some speculate that King's school finance provision is retaliation for Steamboat's charter school stand. King flatly denies that charge. But given that Steamboat's sales tax went unchallenged for more than a decade until the school district challenged the state's charter school act, King's timing is suspicious at best.
The half-cent sales tax provides about $1.8 million each year for Steamboat schools. Those funds have allowed the school district to reduce class sizes to an overall average of 20 or fewer students. The funds pay for 10 teachers, a content standards director, a technology director and a grant writer. The funds have been used to reward teachers with pay-for-performance bonuses. The funds have paid for capital improvements and land acquisition.
The residents of Steamboat Springs have chosen to invest in the education of the community's children by voting three separate times to use a portion of their sales tax proceeds for school programs. Such investment should be applauded.
The logic behind King's tax provision is faulty, and given the link to charter school legislation, the politics of it don't pass the smell test. On Monday, House Education Committee members can and should correct his mistake.