DENVER — On Thursday, nearly 120 high school students from around Colorado rallied at the state Capitol to call for equitable funding of education.
"There are brilliant leaders within high school students across the state, and so often we want them to grow up to be leaders but we don’t give them a chance to actually lead," said Sam Battan, founder and executive director of the Colorado Youth Congress.
The Colorado Youth Congress brings students together to talk about issues important to them and helps them take action. This year, the group joined forces with the Colorado Children's Campaign to push for a uniform property tax rate, or uniform mill levy.
This would mean homeowners would pay the same property tax rates across the state, providing the same level of funding for their school districts.
"We have a dramatically different level of resources available depending on what school districts students are being educated in," said Leslie Colwell, the vice president of education initiatives with the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
Colwell pointed out that in some communities where property taxes are high, school districts suffer because voters are hesitant to approve additional funding. Meanwhile, some affluent areas actually receive more money for education when voters approve mill levy overrides.
"If districts want to raise more money for teacher pay, or new buses, they go out and ask their voters," said Colwell. "And many of our communities have been successful doing that, but many communities have really struggled to do that, and that’s another way we have seen inequities between districts exacerbate over time," she said.
The Colorado Children’s Campaign estimates a uniform mill levy would bring in $450 million a year in sustainable revenue for schools. The ideas has been controversial because it would mean a gradual increase in property taxes for some communities. But students say the current system is simply unfair.
"A lot of classes, opportunities and resources come from funding," said Kelly Hoang, a sophomore at DSST: College View High School in Denver.
"My school doesn’t have art programs. We have one art class," she said, noting that extracurricular programs and clubs require funding, teachers, and equipment.
Hoang wants to tell Colorado lawmakers that opportunities should be available for all Colorado students, regardless of where in the state they live.
"I think all opinions should matter no matter the age, and this is directly impacting us," she said.