Gold Hill School: A Symbol of Freedom in Colorado

Published March 27, 2024

The Gold Hill school was established at the height of the gold mining boom in 1873. Initially, it was a one-room log cabin constructed by local citizens. In that year, the Boulder County News named Gold Hill’s new school “one of the best schools in the county.” These early schools used educational materials such as McGuffey’s Reader, which students today would find challenging. The log cabin has been replaced by a two-room structure that continues to offer schooling through the primary grades.

The Gold Hill school was almost destroyed by fire, but the biggest threat was an effort by the Boulder School District to close the school through consolidation. Gold Hill citizens successfully fought to save their school, arguing that busing students down treacherous mountain roads in the winter made no sense.

Gold Hill residents value the close relationship between the school and their community. Citizens are able to observe and monitor the quality of education their children receive. The school has also become a center for community activities. The Gold Hill school, like other schools in Colorado, is supported primarily from local property taxes. This creates an incentive for citizens to closely monitor how their property tax dollars are spent.

Colorado is unique in empowering citizens at the local level to decide how much they are willing to pay in property taxes and other taxes to support schools and other government programs. This is due to the Colorado Constitution, and especially to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). TABOR is a constitutional amendment enacted through citizen initiative in 1992 that imposes a cap on revenue and spending at all levels of government in Colorado. If any government in Colorado wants to increase taxes or revenues, issue new debt, or spend surplus revenue above the cap, it must first have voter approval. The ballot must state clearly how the revenue will be increased and how the money will be spent over a given time period.  

Over the past three decades, hundreds of ballot measures have been presented to Colorado voters for approval. Few of the ballot measures calling for increased state revenue and spending have been approved. But at the local level, most of the ballot measures pass. When the ballot measures call for increased revenue and spending for schools, they pass at a high rate.  

The success of the Gold Hill school helps in understanding why ballot measures at the local level tend to pass. When increased revenue is earmarked for these schools, citizens know exactly what they are getting for their tax dollars. They can observe how their tax dollars are spent and determine whether they are getting their money’s worth.

The Colorado Constitution created a strong federalist system, with much of the power to tax and spend in local government compared to state government. The TABOR Amendment has strengthened Colorado’s federalist system by allowing citizens to express their preference for local taxation and spending. Because of TABOR, citizens at the local level decide how much property taxes and other taxes they will pay and how the revenue will be spent. When schools, such as the Gold Hill school, deliver quality education at a reasonable cost, citizens support them.

The Gold Hill school has become a symbol of freedom for citizens in Colorado. The essence of freedom is the ability of citizens to protect their property rights. For Colorado citizens, this means protecting their personal liberties and also their right to the fruits of their labor. The Colorado Constitution is designed to protect property rights by limiting the power of government to tax and spend, and the TABOR Amendment has strengthened these property rights.   

Photo by Brylie. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.