Hey, Abbott!!! Colorado Really Doesn't Rank 49th in K-12 Education Spending

Who appreciates a little creativity from education policy wonks more than I do? Exactly, which is why a big smile covered my face to see today’s posting from Jonathan Butcher at the Goldwater Institute, titled “An Abbott and Costello routine: Who’s on… 49th?” It’s hard to imagine the really old-time comic duo taking on misleading claims about K-12 funding, but Butcher does a great job setting up the parody.

Then he brings home the powerful punchline:

Since 2007, local media in five states have named their state “49th” in education funding. In 2005, eight states were crowned 49th. While we all argue over who is second-to-last in funding, we ignore the larger problem: Despite decades of increasing education funding, student achievement is no higher today than it was 40 years ago. In Arizona, real per-student funding more than doubled between 1969-70 and 2008-09, but test scores are flat.

The crowding room of states all trying to claim they are 49th in education funding is one my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow highlighted in his 2006 issue backgrounder “Counting the Cash: The Facts about Per-Pupil Spending in Colorado”. He found in 2004 and 2005 “nine other states” besides Colorado where the claims were being made. As Butcher points out, the trend lingers on. It’s a sort of “Race to the Bottom” that tends not to get much attention.

Rather than being distracted, we could look at the fact that the United States increased real per-pupil spending nearly 2.5 times (145 percent) from 1970 to 2008, while Colorado was just behind the curve with a 138 percent increase. So yes, if our state ends up below the national average — though nowhere near 49th — that small disparity might help explain it. From 2000 to 2010, data from the Colorado Department of Education show that our state’s real total per-pupil spending grew 24.4 percent.

Take a look at (and listen to) the podcast PowerPoint presentation “Colorado K-12 Funding: Show Me the Money,” and let me know if you still don’t see the need to drastically change the way we fund learning success rather than continuing to pour more dollars down the same structures.

Meanwhile, the few busy harping on such misleading claims as the one that Colorado ranks 49th in K-12 education funding have started to sound as desperate and panicky as pudgy little Lou Costello hollering, “Hey, Abbott!!!”