The Denver Elections Division has announced that an effort to raise the recreational marijuana sales tax in Denver to pay for out-of-school learning stipends will be on the ballot in November.
The organization supporting My Spark Denver provided enough valid signatures in order to place the initiative on the November 8 city ballot. The initiative suggests increasing the recreational marijuana sales tax in Denver by 4.5 percent to fund $1,000 stipends that would be given to families in Denver for educational enrichment programs.
Supporters of My Spark Denver claim that the tax increase would raise $22.5 million a year, which would be used to provide services for 20,000 children between the ages of five and 18. According to the proposal, My Spark Denver would also get 0.3%, or about $1.5 million a year, of the marijuana tax money that the city of Denver already gets.
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In November, Colorado voters rejected a ballot measure comparable to My Spark Denver. A new out-of-school education program would have been helped by Proposition 119, which called for a statewide 5 percent increase in the marijuana sales tax. Although the proposition was defeated statewide by an 8.5 percent margin, it fared better in Denver, where it received support from more than 49 percent of voters.
According to the Denver Clerk’s Office, Gary Community Ventures, which spent over $1 million to support Prop 119 and is in charge of all $270,000 of My Spark Denver’s contributions to date, is the source of funding for both Prop 119 and the campaign.
Gary Community Ventures declined to comment on My Spark Denver, but the YMCA of Metro Denver, Healthier Colorado, Servicios de la Raza, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Northeast Denver Islamic Center, Tepeyac Community Health Center, Colorado Black Roundtable, and Movimiento Poder have backed it. Denver state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez supports it.
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DU scholar Since he taught at DU, Mike Cortés has supported educational fairness. Cortés, a member of My Spark Denver’s steering group, says the COVID-19 pandemic “magnified” learning discrepancies between low-income, middle-, and high-income families.
“The biggest issue that has worried me is that Latinos’ educational outcomes in public schools have not been what they should be for many years. The quality of learning at home when schools were closed because of a pandemic depended mostly on the resources of the family, the author writes. He or she also says that Latino children are more likely to go to schools with a lot of resources and are less likely to do well in school.
He claims too many low-income households lack the bandwidth necessary to properly communicate with all of their children’s teachers. A terrible situation has, in some ways, gotten worse.
The $1,000 stipends might be used for after-school programs that include mental health services, sports activities, career training, and “supplemental academic instruction” in academic subjects. Additionally, money could be used to cover the costs of travel and educational supplies needed to take part in such programs.
Prop 119 was criticized by academics because it did not fund public school programs and prohibited free education. The board’s structure was also criticized. My Spark Denver would have a nine-member board of directors. One member would be selected by the mayor of Denver, one would be a Denver City Council member; the ninth would be the DPS superintendent or his/her nominee.
The My Spark Denver board would examine and approve public school teachers and schools as program providers. Children must live in Denver to be eligible for funding. However, My Spark Denver is vague about public school enrollment.
DPS declined to respond to inquiries about the referendum. Requests for comment were not answered by the Colorado Education Association, a teachers’ organization with around 40,000 members based in Denver.
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Denver voters rejected two marijuana tax increases in 2021. The citywide combined recreational marijuana sales tax is 26.41 percent. If My Spark Denver passes, Denver’s marijuana sales tax would exceed 30%.
Denver marijuana business participants oppose My Spark Denver amid falling product prices and sales revenue. Truman Bradley, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, says a higher tax rate might hurt outlets that have closed because of sluggish sales.
“There are about 2,000 owners and over 40,000 badged personnel operating and working in the Colorado cannabis industry.” As stated in a public letter to the Denver City Council, “As the Denver portion of these employees and businesses, we perceive this tax increase as a danger to our livelihoods.” Marijuana firms in Colorado, like many other businesses, are suffering greatly as a result of the nationwide, generationally-high inflation. The marijuana sector has seen revenue reductions for more than 12 months running.
Bradley said the federal ban on marijuana prevents enterprises from gaining tax exemptions, resulting in tax rates of over 70% for dispensaries. Bradley said marijuana revenue is overused for state or voter-backed projects.
Cortés believes the 4.5 percent dispensary fee is reasonable.