Look Closer at Census Spending Data, Big Picture: Colorado's K-12 Sky Isn't Falling
Talk about one of your below-the-fold news stories. Yesterday a Denver Business Journal headline declared: “Colo. near bottom for education spending.” The story references newly-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows Colorado fell from 36th in per-pupil spending in 2007-08 ($9,079) to 40th in 2008-09 ($8,718).
There is good news, though. The best I can tell, unlike a certain recent tax increase press conference, no children were harmed — or even used as props — in the making of this article. For that we can truly be thankful.
How do they measure these spending rankings, though? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I missed any local headlines when the National Education Association released its data showing Colorado’s per-pupil spending increased from $9,335 to $9,574 — albeit slipped down one spot in the rankings from 29th to 30th — during the exact same span. And the U.S. Department of Education’s data likely would be different from both NEA and the Census Bureau, as soon as they release their 2008-09 numbers for us to see.
What does it all mean? Well, for starters, that things like the recent FOX 31 “School Cuts 101” funding crisis TV news series need real clarity and context. In this case, relevant to yesterday’s Business Journal story, did you know that…
- Colorado received $10,171 in revenue per student in 2008-09?
- Colorado ranks 19th in the amount of dollars spent per pupil on “school administration”?
- Colorado stands right in the middle of the pack (25th) with $5,007 in per-pupil local revenue?
But when you get right down to it, the real question is why we navel-gaze so much at inputs rather than outputs. The current economic climate is at least as tough for families and businesses who pay taxes as it is for schools. With that, my advice is to read the Colorado State Board of Education’s unanimously-adopted resolution calling for serious local innovation, as well as Rick Hess’ and Marguerite Roza’s “Stretching the School Dollar: A Brief for State Policymakers”:
This new policy brief lists fifteen concrete ways that states can “stretch the school dollar” in these difficult financial times. Written by Marguerite Roza, senior data and economics advisor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president at the Fordham Institute, it argues that budget cuts alone, without concurrent reforms, could set our schools back years. But by addressing state mandates around teacher tenure, “last hired, first fired” policies, minimum class sizes, and more, states can free local leaders’ hands to make smart, courageous cuts and do more with less. In other words, this challenging climate is an opportunity to make some real changes in education. [emphasis added]
Yes, it’s time to change the paradigm (what a rhyme… whoa!). Just whatever you do — whether you think we need to resume the ceaseless trend of annual K-12 per-pupil spending increases, or if you’re like me and realize that the sky isn’t falling and there are more productive ways to spend public dollars — please (yes, please!) don’t tell me it’s “for the children.” I can think for myself. Now, off to the playground….