Context on Colorado K-12 Funding & Personnel: Time to Aim Beyond Average

An interesting tidbit to open the month of June from the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci in his latest Communique. A reminder that severe economic recessions typically don’t affect K-12 public education anywhere near the same as they impact families and businesses in the private sector:

From 2004 to 2009, student enrollment increased a cumulative 0.7 percent, while the K-12 teacher workforce increased 6.5 percent. Per-pupil spending increased 26.7 percent (about 12.5% after correcting for inflation). Spending on education employee salaries and benefits increased 27.5 percent.

It’s an odd enterprise that reacts to fewer clients by hiring more employees. The day of reckoning was postponed, but finally arrived this year. Unfortunately, there was no rapture to accompany it.

Giving some more context to last week’s story that showed Colorado dip in the Census Bureau’s national per-pupil funding rankings, Antonucci compiled data showing that from 2007-08 to 2008-09 the number of the state’s K-12 employees increased by 3.25 percent while student enrollment grew by 1.97 percent. His 5-year trend data reveals that Colorado increased the number of teachers (not total staff) by 8.4 percent, compared to a 7.4 percent rise in student enrollment over the same time frame.

Some still pine for Colorado to attain the national average in K-12 education spending, though that average is fraught with unsustainable hiring trends that outstrip the number of students served. They hope against hope for the success of a tax increase ballot initiative using kids as political props without their ‘permission, or of an anti-taxpayer lawsuit that falters severely on its basic constitutional argument.

Others of us want Colorado’s education “system” to be anything but average, focused on outputs and innovation and transformation. Rather than rely strictly on the opinions of bureaucrats and career administrators, let’s liberate parents and inform them as education consumers, make the funding follow the student, and then see if funding is “adequate.”

Then again, maybe summertime is kicking in, and I’m just dreaming….