Since Colorado’s first legal sales at the start of 2014 until the end of 2018, $160 million has gone to school construction, courtesy of the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) Fund. But now, lawmakers are making a push to increase that number, and to expand the kinds of support schools can expect from the state’s large recreational marijuana industry.
Last year’s legislation increased the $40 million a year that Colorado sends from marijuana taxes into BEST to the 90 percent of all excise tax revenues. But with Governor Jared Polis’ legislative goal to fund full-day kindergarten, that amount may need to go higher. The funds needed to support such a program were a hot topic of discussion during state legislature budget talks last month.
Right now about 80 percent of the state’s 61,749 kindergarteners have access to full-day programs. Some programs require a monthly tuition fee from families of $300 to $400, while others have access to federal funds for economically depressed districts. Funding for the program requires a shift in budget priorities because at the moment, the state provides half the amount of funds for kindergarten age kids as compared to the resources it funnels to school districts for older students.
But some state legislators have identified where at least part of that money could come from marijuana. They say that when voters approved Amendment 64 in 2014, making recreational cannabis legal statewide, they were sold on the plan by its intended support of public education. An expansion of the percentage of the state’s weed revenue would further honor those voters’ intention, say supporters of the bill, and would widen access lanes between schools and cannabis funds.
Their new plan, HB 1055, would destine all excise tax revenue to BEST, an increase of $5.8 million this year. Among other allowances, it would also transfer $25 million to the construction of full-day kindergarten facilities.
According to the Denver Post, the state has collected over $740 million in marijuana tax revenue — a number that from the beginning of legal sales bested revenues taken in from alcohol retail. The sum exceeds many of the state’s prior predictions for cannabis sales, which has left open questions as to how the windfall should be spent.
“People frequently ask, ‘Where’s all that marijuana money?’ ” Tim Reed, executive director of facilities and construction for Jefferson County Schools told the Post in December. “I can’t tell you how many community meetings I’ve been to where this comes up.”
Currently, the first $40 million of marijuana excise tax is earmarked for education, but weed money has turned out to be a boon to the state in many areas. State legislators are legally able to direct money from the fund to anything within designated “allowable purposes”. The top places where marijuana tax revenue will go in the 2018-’19 fiscal year, according to the Colorado joint budget committee, are; children and youth services (22.6 percent), behavioral health services (21.7 percent), public health services (15.1 percent), and housing services (12.5 percent).