Colorado initiative to create out-of-school education program and increase the marijuana sales tax qualifies for 2021 ballot

On August 25, 2021, the Colorado Secretary of State announced that Initiative 25 qualified for the November 2021 ballot.

The initiative would create the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program, also known as the LEAP Program. Eligible children would include children at least five years of age and no older than 17 years who are eligible for admission to Colorado public schools. The program would provide out-of-school services that would consist of but not be limited to the following:

  1. tutoring in core subject areas,
  2. instruction in English and foreign languages,
  3. career and technical training,
  4. emotional and physical therapy,
  5. mental health services,
  6. special support for students with special needs, and
  7. mentoring.

Services would not include in-school instruction or programs to make up credits regardless of what time of day the program is taught. Services would also exclude anything for which school tuition is paid.

The initiative would establish the Learning and Enrichment and Academic Progress Fund. Under the initiative, no more than 10% of the fund may be spent on the administration of the program after the end of fiscal year 2025.

The Colorado Learning Authority would be allowed to seek gifts, grants, donations, loans, and federal assistance. At the end of the third and fourth quarters of fiscal year 2021-2022, the state treasurer would be required to transfer the same amount from the general fund that is currently transferred to the state public school fund from the sale and lease of sand, gravel, clay, stone, coal, oil, gas, geothermal resources, gold, silver, or other minerals on public school lands. At the end of each fiscal year thereafter, the state treasurer would be required to transfer from the general fund to the LEAP Fund the amount of money transferred to the state public school fund. The amount would be exempt from all revenue and spending limitations. The fiscal impact statement prepared by Legislative Council Staff estimates this amount to be $22 million

The measure would increase the marijuana retail sales tax incrementally from 15% to 20% to partially fund the program. Beginning January 2022, an additional 3% marijuana retail tax would be levied for a total of 18%. Beginning January 2023, the additional tax would increase to 4% for a total of 19%. After January 2024, the additional tax would increase to 5% for a total tax of 20% on marijuana retail sales. Beginning in January 2022, the state treasurer would be required to transfer the revenue generated from the additional marijuana tax to the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Fund monthly.

The initiative would result in an increase in state revenue by an estimated $137.6 million annually once the tax is fully increased to 20%.

Sponsors submitted 203,335 signatures and 145,076 were projected to be valid based on a random sample check of 5% of the submitted signatures. To qualify, 124,632 signatures needed to be valid.

Learning Opportunities for Colorado’s Kids (LEAP 4 Co) registered as an issue committee to support the initiative. According to reports covering information through July 27, the committee reported $1.61 million in contributions and $846,969 in expenditures. Gary Community Investment Company and Ready Colorado gave 98.87% of the contributions. So far, the campaign reported spending $683,790 on signature gathering with Blitz Canvassing.

Coloradans Against School Vouchers registered as an issue committee to oppose the initiative. The committee has not yet reported campaign finance activity. The next campaign finance reports are due on September 10, 2021.

LEAP 4 Cosaid, “Despite heroic work by educators and school districts among unprecedented circumstances, many Colorado school children have been falling further behind – particularly students of color, those from low-income families, or those with special needs. This ‘opportunity gap’ and ‘achievement gap’ have been a cause of great concern in Colorado for years. COVID has only made the situation worse. Out-of-school learning has shown to be an effective tool for closing the gap, but not everyone can afford it. On the heels of COVID, closing the gap has taken on a special urgency. Now is the time to take the first step, because the future of so many young people is on the line.”

Taxpayers for Public Education, which opposes the initiative, said,Initiative 25 is a public school voucher scheme that would undermine Colorado’s public schools and potentially divert money into private institutions that could discriminate against students based on their religion, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, or heritage.”

The deadline to submit signatures for initiatives targeting the November 2021 ballot was August 2. Campaigns for two other initiatives submitted signatures by that deadline: the Custodial Fund Appropriations Initiative (#19) and the Reduce Property Tax Rates and Retain $25 Million in TABOR Surplus Revenue Initiative (#27).

Initiative 27 was also certified. Proponents submitted 192,562 signatures on August 2. The secretary of state announced on August 26 that proponents had submitted 138,567 valid signatures based on a random sample check of 5% of the signatures submitted.

From 2016 through 2020, successful initiative petition drives cost an average of about $850,000, ranging from volunteer efforts to $2.2 million.

Measures that can go on the statewide ballot in Colorado during odd years are limited to topics that concern taxes or state fiscal matters arising under TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (Section 20 of Article X of the Colorado Constitution). This requirement was added to state law in 1994.

Measures that can go on odd-year election ballots include measures proposing new taxes, tax increases, an extension of taxes, tax policy changes resulting in a net tax revenue gain, changes to revenue or fiscal obligations, delays in voting on ballot issues, and approval for the state to retain and spend state revenues that otherwise would be refunded for exceeding an estimate included in the ballot information booklet.

The last time an initiative appeared on an odd-year ballot in Colorado was in 2013. The measure, which was defeated, would have changed Colorado’s flat personal income tax rate to a graduated income rate with increased rates. At least $10.4 million was raised in support of the initiative.

In 2020, eight initiatives appeared on the ballot in Colorado. Campaigns supporting the measures received an average of $3.36 million in support contributions and $2.49 million in opposition contributions. Campaigns supporting and opposing the eight initiatives on the 2020 ballot reported a combined total of $46.8 million in contributions.