Let's Stop Gazing at Spending Rankings, Start Changing Priorities

When it comes to measures of where Colorado ranks in education spending inputs, I never cease to marvel at the selective judgment of newspaper writers. Take for example today’s Denver Post headline: “Colorado at 40th in K-12 funds per student”. Yes, the Census Bureau has released its annual rankings and finds

that Colorado spent $8,167 per pupil, 11th from the bottom nationally, during the 2006-07 school year. That is below the national average of $9,666 and almost half the amount spent by New York, the top state.

But why only the Census Bureau? Several months ago the National Education Association released its annual rankings (PDF) and found that Colorado spent $8,895 per pupil in 2006-07, which ranks us at 30th — not 40th (see H-9).

Or what about the U.S. Department of Education, which when you look at total expenditures per pupil for 2006-07 places Colorado at 31st ($10,160)?

Better yet, why don’t we ask the question of how much spending has changed over time? Depending on how you measure, in the 15 years from 1991-92 to 2006-07, Colorado’s spending per pupil has grown anywhere from 13 to 18 percent — according to the real value of the dollar.

So why don’t we get headlines like that? I don’t know. Maybe they’re not scary enough. To learn more, check out the work by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow that got the discussion started a few years ago: Counting the Cash for K-12 (PDF).

In any case, the Post article had a great quote by Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones that hit the real issue square on the head:

“I am not one of those who says immediately pour more money on it,” he said. “I think we first have to evaluate what resources we have and how we’ve been spending those dollars.”

When it comes to school system structures, incentives, and priorities, we have a lot of redesigning and implementing to do to make sure our money gets spent to the benefit of the bottom line: students. So let’s get to work already!