Colorado K-12 Funding Debates REALLY Could Use Some Accepted Facts

A new Cato Institute education blogger, Jason Bedrick, highlights the work of the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center in a posting today with a message that certainly needs to be repeated: “Public schools cost more than Americans think.” Bedrick cites Ben DeGrow’s recent interview with 9News disputing Colorado school funding figures, and makes a couple salient observations:

  1. Bedrick attacks the news report’s underlying notion that “the amount of money spent per child in the public schools is a matter of political opinion to be legitimately debated rather than an empirical fact” — don’t take the dollar figures someone states at face value; check out the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) data!
  2. Bedrick also believes reporter Nelson Garcia was asking the wrong question: “He wanted to know the amount of state tax dollars that public school districts receive per pupil. The more relevant question is what is actually spent per pupil, including local and federal sources of funding.”

To the first point, even the intelligent and educated reader may find a dive into CDE financial data a bit daunting — if for no other reason than the amount of time it takes to find and sort through the numbers.

So Colorado has a vast number of taxpayers contributing to the K-12 system who are challenged to understand the data. On the other hand, there’s a handful of (mostly) paid experts guarding the status quo who can penetrate the numbers. Whom does complexity benefit? (Don’t think too long about that.)

To the second point, it’s definitely true that looking only at state dollars will give a skewed partial picture of true funding resources. DeGrow referenced total local, state and federal tax revenues to reach the $10,000 per student amount in his quoted comments. Bedrick goes even further to look at total expenditures and finds the number closer to $12,000 per student. In either case, the number cited by the other interviewee in the 9News story is ridiculously low.

The final point Bedrick makes is the one that titles his commentary. He cites a couple of national surveys from recent years (ones I told you about here and here) that have shown the tremendous extent of voters’ “misunderestimation” of how much is spent on K-12 public education.

Unfortunately, it’s a broad ignorance that has real impacts not just on policy decisions, but most importantly on real people’s lives. There is no “magical money tree” anywhere in the real world, and that includes funding for education. Hey, Colorado: Let’s make some informed decisions based on accepted facts.