Empty Classroom (copy)

A good gauge of any ballot proposal’s likelihood of success? The desperation of its opposition. The more potentially popular the question that will be put to voters, the more outlandish, reckless, dishonest and insulting the campaign against it.

By that measure, Proposition 119 should be a shoo-in on Colorado’s statewide ballot this fall. It’s the “LEAP” initiative to bolster K-12 student learning, and it has our enthusiastic support.

The organized opposition to 119 announced the formation last week of a campaign called “No on Prop 119.” It may well set a new standard for distortion. Granted, there’s stiff competition for that dubious distinction in the political world. And it’s early in the season. Yet, the over-the-top press release that the “no” campaign sent the news media Thursday was so riddled with false claims and cartoonish mischaracterizations, LEAP was barely recognizable as the target.

Much of the verbiage accompanying the opposition’s official debut was absurd and unworthy of repetition. Yet, the central falsehood propagated by the opposition — that LEAP somehow would divert money from public education — needs to be debunked. LEAP — the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program — in fact will bring a windfall to public education.

LEAP would provide funding for families to choose wide-ranging supplemental learning support for their children beyond the classroom. They could select from a smorgasbord of approved out-of-school learning providers. Options would include tutors in reading, math, science and writing; services for special-needs students, and career and technical education-training programs. Each household could receive up to $1,500 per child for such outside-class support.

Priority would be given to children who need it most, i.e., those from low-income households.

After last year’s disastrous attempt at “remote learning” in response to the global pandemic, Colorado school kids need LEAP’s help more than ever. The release last month of dismal achievement test scores for the state’s K-12 students sounded the alarm. The test data confirmed what educators, policy makers and of course parents had suspected throughout the past academic year: Student achievement plummeted amid COVID.

LEAP would help our kids climb out of the quicksand. They need tutors and other types of learning support to help them fill in the considerable learning gaps left by COVID and to catch up to where they are supposed to be.

You’d think LEAP’s huge dose of funding to bolster student achievement would make it clear that it’s a net gain, and a big one, for Colorado public education. Yet, the “no” campaign is attempting to argue that because some of LEAP’s funding will come from state trust lands, the proposal will take money “away from teacher salaries and classroom supplies.” That’s absurd.

State trust lands are managed by the State Land Board to support public education among other state institutions. LEAP is exactly the kind of educational investment that state trust lands are intended to support. And, anyway, funds for the likes of teacher salaries are first and foremost a function of the annual school finance package passed by the legislature.

Unmentioned by “No on Prop 119” is the fact that an even bigger portion of LEAP funding will come from a 5% sales tax on retail marijuana sales. Parents are increasingly alarmed at the growing threat today’s power-packed pot poses to their kids — and they may feel its time for the state’s legalized pot peddlers to pay up.

Indeed, a tax on pot sales to bridge the learning gap is overdue and should prove popular. So, why no mention of this key funding component in all the opposition’s rhetoric? Is it because they fear its appeal? Or, might the legalized pot industry turn out to be a major funder of the opposition — and the “no” campaign would rather not draw attention to such an unholy alliance? It’s worth noting that the marijuana lobby already has spoken out publicly against LEAP, as reported recently in The Gazette.

Meanwhile, the public face of the opposition is the teachers unions. But why them? To be sure, the public grew skeptical of organized labor’s role in public education long ago. It has become clear unions hardly represent most teachers’ best interests — much less those of students.

Yet, even in that light, it is hard to see how unions like the Colorado chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which is spearheading the “no” campaign, could object to 119. It is going to help teachers by reinforcing the learning kids do in class.

LEAP has a nearly unprecedented support base that spans the state’s political spectrum. It includes former Govs. Bill Owens and Bill Ritter, a Republican and a Democrat known for their deep commitment to expanding educational opportunity. Alongside them is a bipartisan coalition of 10 state senators, nearly a dozen state House Republicans and other prominent former politicians from both parties, like Democratic former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.

Up against them are only the unions and, perhaps, Big Marijuana. Even on that basis alone, it’s a pretty easy choice.

The opposition to LEAP makes no sense. LEAP makes all the sense in the world. Learn more at: https://leap4co.com