The Haystack

The Fund-amental Problem With Education and Money

The education funding situation as of right now.

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The education funding situation as of right now.

Nathan Reich, Staff Writer

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The debate of inadequate school funding vs. inadequate school spending is overshadowing education here in the U.S.

Do schools need more money? Or do they just need to spend their money more wisely? I believe that a combination of both is necessary.

“Could we use more money? Yes,” said Josh Cooley, the new principal of Wheat Ridge High School. “But it doesn’t necessarily solve the issue. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t fix it.”

According to Cooley, to get more money, there needs to be a good, clear plan. This is probably one of the reasons that the Jeffco mill and bond issues in 2016 failed to pass. “To receive more money, we need to show the voters what we’re going to do with the money,” he said. Good budgeting is a must-have.

However, you need to have money to be able to budget. When asked what Wheat Ridge High School could do if given more money, Cooley responded that the opportunity to update facilities would be nice. “Compared to some of the schools that have gotten new buildings, like Golden and Lakewood, this place is a dump,” said one Wheat Ridge teacher.

“Boosting technology would also be good,” said Cooley, “But if we plan well with our money right now we could maybe get there.” Aside from the updated facilities, in fact, Cooley believes that with careful planning, several years in the future we should be able to get many things improved, not just technology.

Even so, new money would certainly be good. Trouble is, there is no new money coming. Colorado, specifically, is ranked 42nd nationally on per-student spending, according to U.S. Census Bureau. This is definitely not a good thing, but it’s even worse because of the fact that Colorado is the 11th richest state in the nation, according to Governing States and Localities.

Those who say schools are spending inadequately reject the per-student spending rank, and with good reason: we’re being compared nationally. In the U.S., there are states (New York, Connecticut, and Wyoming come to mind) that spend nearly $20,000 (this is state average; there are districts that spend $28,000) per-student. Then there are also states (Mississippi, Nevada, and South Carolina are examples) that spend barely over $8,000 (again, state averages). The numbers are too far apart to be able to compare them to each other, say the “inadequate spenders.”

You simply can’t compare the “rich states” to the “poor states” and make a national average using these numbers that are on opposing ends of the spectrum. It would be much better to compare Colorado to states similar to it, they say. Compared to the midwest, Colorado is actually doing pretty well, as far as education spending goes.

Of course, the states around Colorado (in the mountain and midwest area) are not quite on the same scale as Colorado when it comes to income levels. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Nebraska is 29th, Kansas is 27th, and New Mexico is 45th richest. Colorado is the 11th richest. And yet, according to Governing States and Localities, we’re spending less money per-student than each of these states.

But, putting that aside, it would probably be better (logically) to compare Colorado to states that are in similar economic situations anyway. Washington (10th richest) is 28th for per-student spending, and Minnesota (12th richest) is 18th for per-student spending. If these states that have close to the same amount of money as us, are spending so much more on education, why can’t we? And also, what is Colorado spending on that Washington and Minnesota are not?

Other opposers of more school funding say that many places (some schools in California and Connecticut are examples of this, they say) spend much more money per-student and end up having much lower quality education. This goes to show that more money does not automatically mean a better education. Right? Right. Since this is the case, why don’t we put more money to the poorer schools that provide a better education instead of throwing money at the less successful but better off economically schools?

Here’s another reason Colorado needs to up its school funding. It’s a comparison to the national per-student spending average, so bear with me. In a chart provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, from about 1977 to 1988 (about ten years) Colorado was above the national per-student spending average, maxing in 1986 at $203 higher. According to the graph, in 1988, Colorado’s spending per-student started to decline. In 1992, TABOR (the Taxpayers Bill of Rights) was passed, it was approximately $334 below the national average. It went up slightly in the years following TABOR’s passing, but in about 1994 Colorado’s spending again began to decline. By 2011 (the last year recorded on the chart), Colorado was spending $1,872 below the national average, according to this graph. If Colorado school spending follows the same trend as it has for the past 20+ years, it is certainly more than $2,000 below the national average today.

Here come some more statistics: according to Colorado School Finance Project, Colorado has consistently been below the national averages of teachers per 1,000 students. In 2015-2016, the national statistic was 62.8 teachers per 1000 students, and Colorado was 60.3. While 60.3 is not all that far off from 62.8, look at it this way: according to statistics provided by the Colorado Department of Education, there are 910,280 K-12 students in Colorado (2016-17). According to the national average, we should have about 57,166 teachers to teach these students. We only have 54,890 teachers, assuming the 60.3 statistic is correct. So Colorado is approximately 2,276 teachers short, according to the national average. 2,276 teachers is a lot of teachers. Why? One possible reason: according to the Colorado School Finance Project, the average Colorado teacher salary is more than $7,000 below the national average.

Does “throwing money at the problem” fix it? No. We need to use the money we have wisely. But could Colorado schools use more money? All of these numbers would suggest that they could.

In any case, while the debate rages on, we need to keep in mind one thing: we’re all fighting for the same thing — accessible high quality education. As Cooley put it, “Our goal is to prepare all students to be career and workforce ready, with all the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful workers and good citizens.”

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