Facts about funding education
“There are lies, damned lies and statistics,” Winston Churchill once famously said. This is especially true when it comes to determining how much taxpayer money public schools receive.
Depending on what report you read, Colorado is anywhere from 31st to 50th among states in funding K-12 public education. But regardless of what the numbers say, one thing is clear: As the state budget is being cut right and left to make sure it is balanced, K-12 spending in Colorado is skyrocketing.
Public schools in Colorado are protected by a 3-year-old constitutional amendment – Amendment 23.
It requires the state to increase the statewide per pupil funding and special programs annually at the rate of inflation plus an additional 1 percent. In just the past three years alone, the amount of new state money flowing into per pupil funding increased by $556 million.
But K-12 spending started to rise well before Amendment 23. Gov. Bill Owens did something that hadn’t been done in the decade prior to his being elected. He signed legislation the Republican Legislature passed that fully funded public schools for inflation and student enrollment growth while adding tens of millions of dollars a year for additional literacy classes.
Since his election, K-12 funding has increased 27.4 percent – which is 12 percentage points higher than the rate of inflation.
Looking closer, the 10 largest school districts in Colorado since 1998 have seen their total program budgets increase on average by 19.5 percent while student enrollment has increased by an average of 10 percent.
In every case, their funding has increased more quickly than the rate of inflation. In Denver Public Schools, per pupil funding since 1998 increased from $5,267 to $6,232.
Funding in Aurora schools went from $4,846 to $5,914, and in Douglas County, school dollars were boosted from $4,703 to $5,610.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released a report – based on two-year-old data – that placed Colorado 50th in the nation in how much we spend per $1,000 of personal income.
This number is greatly misleading. States with high personal income that spend a lot of money on schools, like New Jersey, rate high. But states with low personal income that spend a moderate amount of money, like Oklahoma, also rate high.
Colorado was penalized because we have high personal income while spending about in the mid-range of states.
But such numbers are not really meaningful. New Jersey rates high, but by all academic measures, Colorado has better schools. New Mexico also rates high in this study, but again, Colorado has better schools.
The real question is, are we putting every dollar to use in the classroom where it will help children? Coloradans are frugal people. Spending on education bureaucracy doesn’t necessarily improve student achievement.
Funding for our public schools represents the No. 1 commitment of state government. K-12 schools spending is now 40 percent of the state’s general fund budget.
While other parts of the budget are being cut by more than $800 million, K-12 spending by the state is up more than $100 million or 11 percent this year.
Let me repeat that: Public school funding is up 11 percent!
Colorado has made a commitment to its public schools. We are holding our schools accountable for results and boosting student achievement.
And we are increasing funds every year to make sure they can do a better and better job.
State Sen. Ken Arnold, R-Westminster, represents Senate District 23, which includes portions of Adams, Boulder and Broomfield counties. He chairs the Senate Education Committee and serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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