Bipartisan group pushing $150 million pot tax hike to fund tutoring aid

By: - March 9, 2021 10:07 am

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A bipartisan group of current and former state lawmakers is backing a ballot initiative to raise taxes on marijuana sales to fund a new state grant program to boost “out-of-school learning opportunities” for Colorado students.

If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress program would provide an estimated $150 million annually in aid for services like tutoring, counseling, language acquisition, music and arts instruction and career technical training. Low-income students would be prioritized, with children who reside in households that are at or below the federal poverty level awarded aid first, followed by those in households at 100% to 200% of the federal poverty level.

Funding for the LEAP program would come from a 5% hike on recreational marijuana sales, as well as revenues from state trust lands. The current sales tax on retail marijuana is 15%. The ballot initiative would establish a new public-private entity, the Colorado Learning Authority, to administer the program.

Backers say that by providing access to tutoring and other extracurricular opportunities, the LEAP program could help close the “achievement gap,” the longstanding educational disparities that harm low-income students and students of color.

“For a generation, Colorado has struggled to close the education gap between the rich and poor, between those attending high performing schools and those not, between those who have access to tutors, technology and other out-of-school tools and those for whom even a little help with homework feels like a world away,” state Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora, said in a statement.

“Many of the top-performing students in the top-performing high schools that will attend top colleges and universities have benefited from a tutor in math or science, specialized preparation for the ACT and SAT, or a writing coach,” said state Sen. Bob Gardner, Republican from Colorado Springs. “We want this same advantage for every single student in Colorado. This ballot measure would provide it.”

Other supporters of the measure announced Tuesday include former Democratic state Sen. Mike Johnston, former GOP state treasurer Mark Hillman and Jefferson County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper.

The LEAP ballot initiative is scheduled to have an initial hearing before the state’s Title Board on March 17. If the measure is approved for circulation and supporters gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, it could appear on the 2021 ballot alongside Initiative 14, a property-tax cut backed by a conservative group that would result in $1.2 billion in annual budget cuts for Colorado local governments and school districts.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.