Revenues from marijuana tax revenues are not the boon for our schools that were promised. To date, the program to fund Colorado public school capital construction (known as “Building Excellent Schools Today or BEST) has only received $1.1 million from marijuana taxes; not even close to the annual $40 million delineated in Amendment 64. Unfortunately, this money will not go to operating expenses and won’t go to every school district as Ryan Elarton, director of business services for the Pueblo district points out.
By Yesenia Robles
The Denver Post
POSTED: 07/31/2014 12:01:00 AM MDT
As marijuana revenues trickle into the state, slow to meet projections, a few Colorado school districts are among the first to see some impact from the state’s new funds.
The state Department of Education’s program to fund capital projects — known as Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, grants — had received more than $1.1 million from marijuana taxes in May when it made the annual award recommendations.
The state also is readying another $2.5 million from pot taxes so interested schools can hire health professionals.
The additional capital project money has been welcomed as the state fund for the BEST grants has been declining and the program reached a cap for the financed grants it could issue through bonds.
“We can only issue cash grants now, so it limits what we can issue significantly,” said Scott Newell, director for the division of capital construction at the Department of Education. “That’s why the excise tax will help grow that fund, but it will take some time to build up that industry.”
The marijuana excise tax — which is 15 percent on unprocessed recreational pot sales on its first sale – — netted about $3 million from January through June 30. The education department receives the funds monthly and will dole out the awards recommendations every May.
Next year, officials estimate the pot contribution to the BEST grants will be about $10 million. But some school officials say there’s a misconception about where the pot money is going.
“I feel like the word on the streets is marijuana funding is going to schools, but certainly it’s not going to schools for operating costs,” said Ryan Elarton, director of business services for the Pueblo district. “And not every district gets it.”
Besides the new marijuana funds, BEST grants have been funded by sources including money from the state land trust and spillover from Powerball profits after funding the Great Outdoors Colorado fund.
Last year, the BEST had its smallest pool of funding for grants since the program started in 2008.
This year, fewer cash grants were awarded than last year. The department was able to fund 26 grants of the 48 that were submitted, less than last year’s 32 awarded out of 63 received. But this year’s cumulative amount of the grants, $16.4 million, is more than last year’s $9 million.