Facts about recreational marijuana funding and schools

Four years after Colorado voters approved taxes on recreational marijuana, there are still plenty of questions about how that money is used, and how marijuana tax dollars affect schools. Below are answers to a few of the most common questions out there.

Who gets marijuana sales tax money?

Like any sales tax, marijuana sales tax dollars go to the city/town, county, and state where the sale takes place. School districts only ever receive sales taxes second-hand from these organizations, if at all.

How do schools ever get money from marijuana taxes?

Unless a city or county decides to share what they collect from taxes, school districts only benefit from marijuana taxes through grants from the state. Districts have to apply for the grants, and no district is guaranteed a grant.

Don’t schools in towns that allow recreational marijuana sales have an advantage when it comes to getting funding?

Not unless their town, city or county decides to dedicate a portion of their sales tax collections to local schools. Any district can apply for state grants funded by marijuana tax dollars. Having sales within district boundaries is not a requirement and doesn’t earn a district any points toward getting the grant.

What kind of grants can schools get?

Nearly $8.5 million of the $87 million that went into the state’s Marijuana Tax Cash Fund last year went into four education programs:

  • The School Health Professionals Grant Program
  • The Early Literacy Competitive Grant Program
  • The School Bullying Prevention and Education Cash Fund, and
  • The Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Re-engagement

The state of Colorado also takes up to $40 million in collections from marijuana excise taxes each year to fund a school construction grant program called the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) Grant Program.

Does District 51 get any of these grants?

Yes – this year, 42 school districts, including District 51, received a School Health Professionals Grant. District 51 will use its grant for $557,300 to hire eight half-time counselors in elementary schools and four full-time social workers at the middle and high school level. The social workers will focus on mental health and substance abuse prevention.

The district also will receive $112,846 this year from the Office of Dropout Prevention and Education Cash Fund, a state fund that receives money from marijuana taxes.

Has D51 applied for a marijuana tax-funded grant for construction or maintenance?

The BEST grant, mentioned earlier, provides matching grants for school construction and renovation projects. District 51 has applied for BEST grants but, so far, has always been turned down.

Earlier this year, District 51 applied for a $13 million BEST grant to replace Orchard Mesa Middle School. The district’s request did not make the final cut. Why only $13 million for a $40 million project? BEST grants require matching funds. District 51 must provide the other two-thirds of the project cost.

Do towns that allow recreational marijuana sales have a better shot at a BEST grant?

No. You may have noticed De Beque School District received a BEST grant to build its new school addition. The town had to match the grant with a bond measure in order to complete the project and secure the grant. No local marijuana sales tax dollars went into building the addition.

Why was OMMS unsuccessful in getting a BEST grant this year?

There are 178 school districts in Colorado with a total of $14 billion in construction needs all clamoring for a piece of the $40 million of marijuana excise tax in BEST grant funding. With the average school construction project currently costing between $16 million and $45 million, there isn’t enough to go around for all schools in need.