Adults Need to do Homework Before Voting on School Bond Elections

I deserve to go to school in a safe, well-constructed facility. But my parents and I also deserve a clearer accounting of how the money is to be spent. Colorado school districts are putting a record $2.5 billion in construction bond proposals on this November’s ballot. Do the people going to the polls have the information they need? One of my friends here at the Education Policy Center has good reason to think that isn’t the case:

“My hypothesis is the larger turnout means (districts) are reaching into a voter base that is generally less informed about local issues and more inclined to give money to schools because it sounds like it is the right thing to do,” said Ben DeGrow, education-policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank based in Golden.

Denver Public Schools is asking for $454 million, Douglas County $395 million, and Jefferson County $350 million, not to mention the proposals of 12 other school districts. And not to mention proposed mill-levy increases that add to the total.

DeGrow, however, said he thinks Colorado residents might be growing weary of tax increases.

“Taxpayers keep getting taken for more and more,” DeGrow said. “That adds up and tends to make a difference over time.”

In my opinion, he actually understated the case a bit. Most people want good schools, including well-constructed school facilities, but they also want to see their money spent most effectively. The difference between a Yes vote and a No vote is much more than the difference between someone who cares about kids and schools versus someone who doesn’t. What about:

  • Has the school district found other ways to save money?
  • Has the district accounted for depreciation?
  • Has the district given due consideration to more affordable financing or cost-sharing arrangements?
  • Has a careful analysis of the previous bond election been done to show the impact on students learning and well-being?
  • Has the district prioritized its needs to match its fundamental mission: preparing students academically for future success?
  • Is the district proposing to build a 100-year facility, when it would be wiser to build a 25-year facility, imagining that 21st-century demands on schools might grow to be significantly different?
  • Have charter schools and others been treated fairly and equitably?
  • Has the district been open and transparent to provide parents and other taxpayers with clear and honest answers to these questions?

These are all things voters should have a basic understanding of before casting a Yes or No vote on their local school district bond. I know I’m only 5, but it makes sense to me.