CO: A Nice Payback For Supporting Schools

Photo Credit: Civilized

The Grand Valley finally got something besides social ills from the state’s voter-approved legalization of recreational marijuana.

Since there are no retail shops authorized to sell pot in Grand Junction and most of Mesa County (except Palisade and De Beque), there are no tax revenues rolling into municipal coffers. As we’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, we get all the problems associated with the proliferation of marijuana, yet reap none of the financial benefits. That’s a topic for a different day.

Still, as Sen. Ray Scott pointed out during the past legislative session, “Voters who supported marijuana legalization were told that a meaningful chunk of that money would go toward building or rebuilding public schools.”

None of that money has found its way to Grand Junction — until now. Last Friday, School District 51 officials announced the district was awarded a $14 million BEST grant toward construction of the new Orchard Mesa Middle School.

BEST stands for Building Excellent Schools Today. It’s a state matching grant program funded by land trusts, marijuana excise taxes and some lottery money. The marijuana money had been capped at $40 million until Sen. Scott and his colleagues in the Legislature passed a bill to nearly double that amount in the coming years.

Those BEST dollars have been hard to come by. District 51 has applied four times in 11 years and was rejected in its three previous efforts — for a big reason.

In addition to the extensive application process, BEST grants applicants must prove they are able to match the funds at a 2-to-1 clip, usually through a county-approved tax increase. The passing of 3A and 3B last November improved District 51’s chances of receiving the grant.

Now that it has, the district has an extra $14 million in bond funding from Measure 3B to spend elsewhere on other capital projects.

As we pointed out in the run-up to the election, our best hope of seeing marijuana money go to school construction projects was to pass a bond we needed anyway. Part of the state’s formula for awarding the grants is calculating how much effort a district put into passing a bond measure to fund construction projects in the previous 10 years.

The board that oversees BEST grant awards decides how much a district must contribute to a construction or renovation project based on factors such as the local median household income, assessed value of local property, and how many students get free or reduced-price school meals.

Hopefully, now that the Legislature has cleared the way for more marijuana tax money to go into the BEST program, Colorado can get more aggressive about addressing the $14 billion in construction needs across the state. But if we’re going to capitalize on this funding source in the future, we’re going to have to remain committed to supporting local measures for capital projects.