The largest teacher organization in the state endorsed Jared Polis in the governor’s race. But the Democratic candidate won’t endorse the teacher-backed ballot measure to boost school funding.
The juxtaposition frustrates teachers, a key Democratic voting bloc, and characterizes the political struggle education advocates face in the campaign to pass Amendment 73 in Colorado.
The constitutional ballot measure would increase income taxes on businesses, and on individuals who make more than $150,000, generating a combined $1.6 billion in new revenue.
It also would also give businesses a property tax cut, while preventing future school-related tax cuts for homeowners, who are due an estimated 15 percent cut next year, thanks to the property tax-limiting Gallagher Amendment.
Polis, a Boulder congressman and the top Democrat on the statewide ballot this year, is not supporting Amendment 73. He is remaining neutral, but his campaign would not explain his reasoning and the candidate refused to talk to The Colorado Sun.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper remains undecided — a turnabout from 2013 when he unsuccessfully championed Amendment 66, a ballot measure to increase income taxes by $1 billion to increase spending on schools.
Hickenlooper said he wants more money put toward education, but he’s concerned the measure could hurt small businesses.
“They made a big ask, and an ask that we are trying to assess,” he said at an event last week.
“Sometimes you get caught in the middle of one of these things, and it is really hard,” Hickenlooper added. “In this particular initiative, I haven’t picked a side yet, and I better hurry up.”
The lack of support so far from the two top Democrats is not going unnoticed by the teachers who are pushing for Amendment 73.
Angela Anderson gathered Saturday with a dozen teachers and advocates at a Lakewood park to organize a door-to-door campaign to generate support for the measure.
“It really surprises and disappoints me, especially Polis who has said that he wants to be a friend to education,” said Anderson, a 20-year veteran who teaches at Bear Creek High School. “He’s talked and said good things — how every student should have full-day kindergarten for free. Well, how are we going to pay for that? Where is that money going to come from?”
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Shannon Knight, a fourth-grade teacher at Ralston Elementary, said her school building needs upgrades and other schools are “just trying to keep their heads above water.”
In terms of top Democratic and Republican officials, she said: “We wish that they could see how important education is to the future.”
Still, the teachers see Polis as “the lesser of two evils” compared to Republican Walker Stapleton.
The two-term state treasurer opposes Amendment 73. In an interview, Stapleton said the current dollars earmarked for education need to be better spent, pointing to analysis done by his campaign that showed a significant portion going toward administrative overhead.
When it comes to a tax hike, he said he thinks “Colorado is reflexively skeptical of where money is going.”
The other three Democratic candidates for statewide office — attorney general candidate Phil Weiser, secretary of state candidate Jena Griswold and treasurer candidate Dave Young — all support Amendment 73. And the organization behind the campaign points to dozens of other groups from across the state that are backing the constitutional change, including conservatives.
The Colorado Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, is one of the lead supporters. The group supported Cary Kennedy in the Democratic primary for governor but is now endorsing Polis.
CEA president Amie Baca-Oehle said the Amendment 73 campaign is focused on getting support at the community level, rather than endorsements from top Democrats.
“I think we have never really wanted this to get swirled up into a partisan political debate,” she said. “It is more of a ground game. It’s more about person-to-person, and really voter-to-voter, sharing those stories about what’s happening to our public school system.”