How Math Illiteracy Hurts Kids: The Colorado Referendum

At the risk of channeling my inner Dean Baker, I can’t help but think the belief that the failed Colorado referendum to increase taxes slightly to provide school funding to underfunded schools is due to numerical illiteracy. Consider this (boldface mine):

Had the referendum passed, the current flat state income tax rate of 4.6 percent would have been replaced with a two-tier system. Residents with taxable incomes below $75,000 would have paid 5 percent; taxable incomes above $75,000 would have been taxed at 5.9 percent. The measure would have poured money into poor, rural school districts, expanded preschool, bought new technology and encouraged local innovations like longer school days and school years, supporters said.

But the promise of higher teacher salaries and full-day kindergarten failed to resonate with voters, even in many reliably blue corners of the state and areas where the money would have had the greatest benefit. The state voted 65 percent to 35 percent against the overhaul, known as Amendment 66.

… Erin DeMarco, a political science student at the University of Colorado Boulder, was one of the voters Amendment 66 supporters needed to win over. A registered Democrat who voted for Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Obama, she said she wanted to see better schools, but balked when she saw the size of the tax increase.

“I felt a little guilty when I voted against it,” she said. “It tugged at my heartstrings. I just don’t always believe that money solves problems. It’s difficult for me to write a blank check to the government.”

Apparently, they don’t teach math at University of Colorado. Look, the people who think God sheds a tear every time a tax dollar is spent, those who are Ayn Rand disciples, or those who just hate the poor are the lost and the damned. No argument is going to persuade them. But this is not a large tax increase.

Someone who makes $70,000 per year would end up paying a whopping additional… $280 per year. Someone who makes $150,000 would end up paying $1,275 more per year. $300,000 per year leads to an extra $3,225 per year. Keep in mind, this is taxable income–income after deductions. If this story was covered like everything else by the political press corps, I’m guessing these numbers were never raised. Instead, the coverage probably focused on the BILLION!!! dollars. Which sounds scary.

And they say the kids today aren’t learning (which isn’t true, of course…).

Aside: It’s also worth noting that the Times story, like so much coverage of taxes, neglects to mention that tax bracketing was part of the plan (your total income isn’t hit by the higher rate if you make $75,001).

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3 Responses to How Math Illiteracy Hurts Kids: The Colorado Referendum

  1. Jeff says:

    “Large” is subjective, so your comment about them not teaching math at UC is pretty silly. You have no idea from that quote if she accurately understood the magnitude of the tax increase. It’s also equally likely it was the reporters fault for explaining it poorly while trying to get a quick quote.

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  3. Kate says:

    Don’t forget that this was a *student*, who probably won’t be affected by this at all until she’s been out of university for a handful of years, at least…

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