Millions In Cannabis Taxes Being Used To Fix Schools In Colorado
Many schools in the Deer Trail community in Denver were built a century ago, so it’s only natural that people feel sad that these educational institutions have been destructed. There are just around 570 people who live in Deer Trail, most of whom are elderly adults who attended these same schools, and still go to their homecoming dances while reminiscing about football championships and old loves of the past – memories linked to their old, run-down schools.
Just 60 miles southeast of Denver, real estate is booming and a new high-tech preK-12 school is going to be built. Where does this money come from? Legal cannabis sales.
Despite the fact that many people are still against cannabis use, no one is objecting that these dilapidated schools are benefiting by getting a facelift, thanks to the millions in revenue from taxes that come in through legal cannabis sales. The money is going to wholesale replacement, renovations, and other fixes that have prevented swimmers from enjoying facilities such as the 50-year old pool. Other serious matters that the money is helping in tremendously is that it’s addressing the fact that students in wheelchairs still need to be held up unsuitable staircases, have a difficult time using narrow bathrooms, and the coaches can’t used their locker room since it’s closed because of a sewage leak.
In a Denver Post article, school principal Dave Casey said: “It’s just a nightmare to keep things going around here.”
The preK-12 campus will soon be established thanks to some $34 million in taxes. Development is projected to begin taking place within the next two years, at a location where the previous Future Farmers of America hog farm used to be. Part of the funding is coming from Colorado’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program.
“I don’t care where the money comes from, if we get a new school, I’m for it,” says Hayley Whitehead, a graduate of Deer Trail who is now employed as the district’s administrative assistant. “I see the invoices and see what we need for repairs, so I have a pretty good idea of the situation here.”
Back in 2013 and 2014, excise taxes from cannabis were first used. During that time, over $3 million was allocated for BEST school construction programs; and in the following year it inflated to $24 million. By 2015 and 2016, an estimated $80 million in cannabis taxes went to Colorado’s BEST program. It also includes a one-time $40 million payment following the local voters’ decision to keep then spend over $66 million in excess legal cannabis revenue.
Aside from legal cannabis, other organizations have also supported the BEST program, which included the Colorado Land Board and the Colorado Lottery. Overall, BEST programs have spent $1.2 billion for important construction projects since 2009. According to state officials, the greens from retail cannabis sales only makes up a portion of what’s actually needed to build and maintain schools in Colorado. This issue is also significantly affecting the rural areas where budgets are much smaller, and the districts don’t have the cash to spend on bond issues. Almost all 27 recipients of the $300 million in BEST grants from 2017-2018 were apportioned to the rural school districts, where Deer Trail is located.
BEST awarded grants to the Brush School District, which received over $60 million to build a new middle school and repair the high school facilities. Del Norte also received $45 million to develop a new preK-12 school. All school districts hoping for BEST grants need to prove that they are in great need and can confirm at least some sources of matching funding.
According to superintendent Kevin Schott, skeptical voters changed their minds after they saw the state of the schools themselves. He said, “They were saying a new school wasn’t needed until they saw what we and the kids have to deal with every day. And I think it was eye-opening for them.” Schott also added that current classrooms aren’t equipped to handle technology and computers, while a structural engineer commented that the swimming pool was in such a bad condition he actually recommended that it be shut down.
Schools also face a security issue since there are numerous areas in blind hallways that they can’t even lock properly. Schott said, “It’s not ideal by any stretch of the imagination”.
“Sure, plenty of people will be sad when the old school closes and disappears,” Schott says. “But the new school is something this community deserves. And we are so grateful for it.”
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