Laying the Foundation for an Honest Discussion about School Funding

Can we have an honest discussion about school funding? Not that my friends in the Education Policy Center haven’t been trying. All sorts of numbers are used in various ways to make the case that Colorado (or pick your state) has drastically underfunded schools, and more than once they’ve worked to set the record straight.

Certain interest groups and their useful supporters nonetheless want us to aim for the middle of some specific ranking. If that’s their goal, someone almost always can find some category in which Colorado (or pick your state) lags the national average, or even the middle of the pack. And when have you ever heard the same advocates in high-spending states acknowledge that they have enough funding, that no increases are needed?

Well, how about a little context? Along comes Vanderbilt University professor James Guthrie with a new piece in Education Next that effectively breaks through the scare tactics and lays the foundation for a serious, honest discussion.

Read Professor Guthrie’s article and see from a national perspective how:

  • The public sector has grown faster than the economy over the course of decades
  • The K-12 education system spends more real dollars per student nearly every year, and spends far more now than 10, 20, or 30 years ago
  • The growth of personnel employed by the K-12 education system has far outstripped the growth in student enrollment
  • Regular and frequent cries that the sky is falling rarely come to fruition
  • Federal funding of education in most places has increased more than state or local funding

My thoughts? The occasional real funding shortage that can’t be addressed by finding efficiencies and effecting real reforms would find more favor if the bureaucracy hadn’t cried “Wolf” so many times. And pursuing a policy of genuine financial transparency is the smartest and boldest first step that forward-thinking school officials could and should pursue. And, of course, intervention from the courts is exactly the wrong way to go.

With the foundation laid, now let’s have an honest discussion.