Not Enough Money for Colorado K-12? Let's Try Private School Choice

Yesterday I heard education lobbyists testify before Colorado’s House Finance Committee that tax credits must be repealed to help offset budget cuts to K-12 schools. I can’t say whether or how much they have a point, because for years (or so big people tell me) of funding increases they have constantly said there’s not enough money. It kind of reminds me of that little boy who kept yelling something until nobody believed him anymore.

Well, has it occurred to anyone that the structure of the system, the framework for how we spend money on K-12 education, might need to change? Is that even part of the conversation? Enter the Cato Institute‘s Adam Schaefer, who puts the spending on a national scale into context in his brand-new piece for National Review:

K–12 schooling is the biggest item on state and local budgets. Judging by the 2005–06 totals from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), state and local governments now spend well over $500 billion each year on public K–12 education. The Bush and Obama administrations have overseen a startling increase in the federal involvement in and funding of K–12 education, but the federal government provides just 9 percent of education funds, compared with 44 percent from local sources and 47 percent from states.

State governments spent 35 percent of their general funds on K–12 education in 2007, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. In contrast, Medicaid — which is continually singled out as a problematic state-budget item, even though most Medicaid funds come from the federal government — accounted for just 17 percent of general-fund expenditures. Combined, state and local governments spend 27 cents of every dollar they collect on public K–12 education system, but only 8 cents on Medicaid.

K-12 education makes up 43 percent of Colorado’s general fund expenditures for 2009-10. Colorado state and local governments also spend more than 27 cents of every dollar they collect on K-12. It may not be enough for the adult interest groups funded by the system, but is it really enough to get the job done? Schaefer concludes:

Even small and restricted school-choice programs save taxpayers millions a year: $32 million under an existing program in Milwaukee; $39 million in Florida; and more than $531 million in Pennsylvania. Larger programs that give all families access to vouchers could save billions of dollars every year while greatly improving education.

The evidence is staring the Obama administration in the face: States, local governments, and taxpayers can’t afford not to have school choice.

So school choice gives many, many kids better opportunities and saves us all money: What are we waiting for again?