A new report from Colorado’s teachers’ union blames underfunding for a litany of issues, including school violence and a lack of LGBT-inclusivity.
The Colorado Education Association (CEA) claims the state’s public school system is operating under a longstanding deficit of $10 billion. This so-called lack of investment has allegedly affected teacher pay and shortages, undermined gun violence prevention, and inhibited the creation of LGBT-affirming policies.
But according to finance expert Ben Murrey, CEA is getting its facts wrong.
“The 2023 CEA report claims that public education in Colorado is underfunded because of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the state constitution. Two facts about TABOR prove how misleading this assertion is,” Murrey, director of fiscal policy for the Independence Institute, told The Lion. “First, TABOR limits the annual rate of growth in state revenue; it does not dictate how the state spends its revenue.
“That means, if education is underfunded as CEA claims, it is because lawmakers have chosen not to prioritize it – not because TABOR prevents its funding.”
In other words, if public schools are underfunded, it’s not because the government doesn’t have the money.
“The problem lies in how legislators chose to use the billions of dollars in extra tax money voters gave them,” concludes Murrey.
And Colorado’s per student spending is comparable to – and even exceeds – many of its neighbors.
For every K-12 public student, Colorado spends $11,000 annually. Idaho and Utah spend $8,000. Nevada, Arizona and Oklahoma spend $9,000. Texas spends $10,000, and Kansas and Missouri spend $11,300.
But despite its spending, Colorado’s test scores and literacy rates are abysmal.
In 2022, less than half of 3rd graders were reading at grade level. And according to NAEP data, 4th and 8th grade test scores having been steadily in decline for the past decade, indicating the problems go beyond the pandemic shutdowns.
At the end of the day, CEA’s report is just another example of teachers’ unions and public education advocates pleading for more tax dollars, often in the name of “fully funded education.”
“We have yet to realize a fully-funded public education system in Utah,” said Renée Pinkney, president of the Utah Education Association. “I was in the classroom for 27 years, and we have never had a fully-funded public education system.”
Others even argue that public education needs to be “fully funded” before school choice programs are enacted.
But “fully funded” education is a myth, an ever-moving finish line that teachers’ unions use to demand more money and sidestep bad test scores and illiterate students.
After all, public education is the only organization that gets more funding when it fails.
And because public education is now a staple of American society, taxpayers will keep funding it, no matter how bad it gets.
So, if we’re doomed to pour our hard-earned dollars down the drain of public education, it can’t hurt to spend a few more dollars helping students escape the public monopoly through school choice.