How to Push Ben DeGrow's Buttons in Making Arguments about School Funding

The same day that I promised to stay away from using the “it’s for the kids” line to make an argument, the Denver Post published an online column by University of Northern Colorado education professor Spencer Weiler doing just that:

…Colorado is only as strong as the quality of education children throughout the state receive each day. And the quality of education is directly correlated with the funding the state ensures for its public schools. Money matters when it comes to educating children.

It is with that backdrop that I wish to comment on the state’s failure to adequately fund public schools and the current fiscal crisis. When Colorado passed Amendment 23 in 2000 the state was $696 below the national average in per-pupil funding. We are now over $1,400 below the national average in per-pupil spending and the gap will continue to grow as a result of the current recession….

Let me explain…. No, let me sum up. According to Dr. Weiler, we must take away reasonable controls on the growth of government and the right of citizens to vote on tax increases because Colorado schools aren’t funded as much as in many other states. In other words, it’s for the children. How is a little munchkin like me supposed to argue with that?

Well, whether he realized it or not, Dr. Weiler knew how to push my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow‘s buttons — by leaving crucial facts out of his 650-word essay. Today, the Denver Post was gracious enough to post Ben’s 400-word response online:

No one denies our K-12 public schools need a certain level of funding. Yet like many other pleas of school funding poverty, Dr. Weiler’s piece avoided real dollar figures. According to the Colorado Department of Education’s latest data, schools received about $12,000 per student in 2007-08.

Insisting more funding is needed based solely on claims of a perceived decline relative to the national average leaves out an important part of the tale. U.S. Department of Education data show the national average in total per-pupil spending grew by 42 percent above inflation between 1989 and 2007. Most of that growth can be attributed to adding new personnel (including administrators and support staff) at double the rate of student growth. Colorado’s spending meanwhile grew by a smaller but significant 25 percent.

To acknowledge this key fact is to confront the harsh truth that far more of our public education system’s shortcomings are tied to poor structural design than to revenue shortfalls….

Need I say more? I truly recommend you read both pieces in their entirety — Ben’s is considerably shorter, but in my opinion hits a home run. Hey, I’m excited baseball season is almost here. What can I say?