Over the past couple of weeks, one of the more popular questions we have been receiving is, "What happened to all of the marijuana tax money? Wasn't that supposed to solve the funding problems for schools?"
To put it simply, the tax money generated through marijuana sales comes nowhere close to solving the budget concerns here in Thompson or in any other district in the state. Here is why:
A portion of the excise tax on wholesale retail marijuana is directed to the state's "Building Excellent Schools Today" (BEST) program. The first $40 million that is collected through this mechanism is dedicated to school construction, while revenues exceeding $40 million (if applicable) benefit the public school fund, which is controlled by the state legislature. The total 2016-2017 marijuana revenue that was transferred to the Colorado Department of Education, including for BEST grant support, was $54.2 million. This total makes up only about 1% of the state's funding for education.
At the time that the law legalizing this system was being considered by voters, proponents of the plan were quick to suggest that it was a great deal for education in the state as a portion of the sales taxes would directly benefit schools. Politically, this sounded especially good to voters at the time. After all, most of the school districts were certainly feeling the effects of our state's financial shortfalls, which were leading to ever-decreasing amounts of funding.
When the measure passed, many people in our district and throughout the state likely believed that the law would help to solve many of the financial concerns faced by TSD and other school districts. While it's true that the marijuana tax money has helped school districts, here is why the impact has been quite minimal compared to the overall need that Thompson is facing:
-School districts have to apply for funding through the BEST grant program. Funding is not automatically given out.
-The grant process is very competitive in nature. School districts across the state are competing for a relatively small amount of money.
-BEST is a matching grant program. This means that school districts have to also put up a large portion, if not the majority, of the cost of a project in order to qualify. This is a big problem if you happen to be a school district that doesn't have the matching funding available to complete a project you desperately need.
-Since the marijuana tax mechanism started, TSD has received a grand total of $377,504 in BEST funding. This money was used to complete roofing projects at Mary Blair Elementary School and Berthoud High School. The district had to put forth $690,416 of its own funding into those projects in order to fulfill the matching requirements. TSD also receives some support through the state's School Health Professional grant, which contains funding from the marijuana taxing mechanism.
-In total, the district has approximately $74 million in total deferred maintenance costs in our buildings. This means that even if Thompson received every single dollar available in the entire marijuana-funded state program, it would not be enough to cover our needs.
-According to the Colorado Department of Education, estimates say that by 2018, capital needs throughout the state will grow to approximately $17.8 billion in deficiencies in state public schools. This is a remarkable number and is certainly way out of reach of being solved by something as basic as a marijuana excise tax.
When all is said and done, TSD is grateful that we have been able to benefit from the funding set aside through the marijuana excise taxes. But it simply never will be the solution that we need to solve our significant building maintenance issues. To do that, the district must continue to evaluate options from across the entire spectrum, including school closures, bond and mill levy override measures, cuts to programs, services and personnel and even non-traditional options.
Our challenges are significant. Throughout the upcoming months, we need your assistance to help solve these problems locally since very little additional funding will be coming from the state. We hope you will join us.
Dr. Stan Scheer
Thompson School District