Just What You Get for Posting the "49th in K-12 Funding" Canard

I have a little secret I’d like to share. You want to know how to get under the skin of my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow? It’s pretty easy.

Just go online somewhere and repeat the canard that Colorado supposedly ranks 49th in K-12 education funding. He won’t be able to resist the chance to respond and slap you down. The latest example is yesterday from the state of Washington, where they are debating a ballot initiative much like our own Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

So here’s what Seattle Times columnist Lynne Varner wrote:

Colorado voters fell for promise of tax relief but the result was horrific. After the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) passed in 1992, the state dropped to 49th in funding for K-12 education…. [emphasis added]

Very clever, Ms. Varner. At that point you pretty much had Ben cornered. Just one problem: Like a wounded animal that’s when he is most dangerous (you know, with his arsenal of facts and logic):

If one were to accept this misleading statement, it would sound as if 48 other states spend more dollars per pupil than Colorado are K-12 education. And unfortunately, that’s just not true.

What the 49th (and it’s fluctuated between 45th and 49th for much of this decade) ranking indicates is dollars spent as a share of personal income. In other words, because TABOR’s sensible restraints on taxes and government growth have contributed to a growing economy, the state’s earning power has risen greatly in comparison with other states. And therefore we don’t spend as much per $1,000 of personal income as most other states.

What’s funny is that Washington state ranks 48th in this category already. But when you look at total dollars spent per pupil, according to the U.S. Dept of Education Washington ranks 27th and Colorado 31st.

Also interesting … Florida ranks 50th in the bogus spending per personal income category. And no state has seen such remarkable gains in reading and helping to close the achievement gap between white and minority students as Florida has.

Perhaps even more important is looking at actual dollars spent and how they change over time. In the 15 years since TABOR, Colorado’s spending per pupil grew by 18 percent … above inflation! Our state just hasn’t increased K-12 spending as quickly as most other states. So I guess you can thank TABOR for that.

There’s facts, and then there’s reality.

I guess the obsession started when Ben wrote “Counting the Cash” (PDF) way back in 2006, followed by the 2008 update “A Second Look at K-12 Cash” (PDF). Great resources if you need more explanation.

Now look, I’ve let you in on a little secret. Just please don’t abuse it and start wildly posting “Colorado ranks 49th in K-12 education funding” all over the internet. I might end up getting my blogging privileges revoked. And as much as I enjoy playing with Legos and my Gameboy Advance, they wouldn’t be able to fill the void left by not being able to write here.