Opinion: Pot benefits a smoke screen
With boastful headlines like “schools to benefit most from pot sales,” your school district receives many questions about how much money we’re getting from pot sales. And, where are we spending the money? The curious are disappointed to hear the truth: School District 51 is unlikely ever to see a penny from pot sales. What was once an empty campaign promise to help sell the legalization of marijuana is now a propaganda tool to lead voters to believe the false promise. Currently, in fact, a second initiative is on the ballot to make such funding even available. It won’t yield results either.
Here’s how it works
Funds from marijuana sales for schools go into a specific construction fund. This fund fuels the state’s B.E.S.T. grant, a school construction fund that favors small districts and charter schools. It requires “matching funds” from the grant applicant. School districts must apply for building grants.
The problem isn’t visible until reality is considered. The most recent articles about pot sales helping schools point to a trajectory of sales and taxes collected — this year’s sales are on track to exceed last year’s sales. The articles point to $13 million being raised for schools so far, and the possibility of it actually reaching $40 million.
Stop right there. Without further context, this sounds great, right? There are 178 school districts. The average cost to build a typical school is in the neighborhood of $25 million to $45 million. In other words, even if fully funded at $40 million, the pot fund would only build a single school. There are about 1,735 public schools in Colorado. $40 million won’t go far in the realm of building of schools.
While in Eagle County, the local Charter School received a B.E.S.T. grant before weed was legal. It took the Charter school community years to raise the matching money and multiple applications to be selected. It wasn’t easy or fast.
District 51 is not a small district, a charter school, nor do we have matching funds available for the grant process. In other words, we don’t meet the criteria to score high enough on the grant process to be awarded funds. It is highly unlikely that School District 51 will ever see any funding from pot sales.
Beyond the false promise of “building schools,” we should consider the overall idea of linking schools and marijuana. Public schools have worked for decades to educate students about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. If you visit any of our schools, you’ll likely see “tobacco-free zone” signs. Classifying marijuana as legal for adults in Colorado increases access to, and acceptance of, marijuana by children. In anticipation of this access and acceptance, we’re changing how we educate about the dangers of marijuana on the developing mind. Any gains any district sees in the offset of building costs under this scheme is likely offset again in time spent on increased educational efforts.
The basic purpose of public education is to help children learn to make positive decisions as kids and as adults. As children, this means staying away from health hazards like tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. As adults, they can make their own choices, but the idea is that they will be cautious and carefully weigh the impact their decisions may have on their happiness and success. Alcohol and marijuana, in particular, are often used as coping aids, which can be a pathway toward abuse. We want students to have better coping skills to begin with, and the education needed to make informed decisions.
Rather than falling for false promises and exaggerated claims, we have to get real about solving the funding problems facing public schools in Colorado. While the media are abuzz with the thin promise of $40 million stemming from pot sales, State legislators are withholding $855 million from the School Finance Act this year. Since the recession, they’ve held more than $5 billion in funding. These are taxes that have already been paid and collected for education. Legislators are building a super-sized Education Fund for a rainy day. But, for today’s students, it’s raining now! Colorado was once a proud leader in funding for education. Now we’re way below the national average, and pot sales won’t help.
Free Press columnist Dan Dougherty is director of communications for School District 51: Mesa County Valley Schools. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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