Responses to Common Myths and Misperceptions
Too often, discussions about school funding get derailed by simplistic sound bites that may sound good, but are misleading at best. Here are a few:
MYTH: “Money doesn’t matter in school funding.”
This old chestnut has its roots in a three-decades old study that has since been soundly debunked. Studies and statistics of more recent years demonstrate that well-targeted dollars have a direct, positive effect on student outcomes. To list just a few:
- This study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in July 2016, was conducted by the economists Julien Lafortune and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California at Berkeley and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern and it found that money really does matter in education. (New York Times article, It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education)
- A study published in 2015 showed that a 10% increase in school funding for low-income students resulted in a 9.5% increase in their earnings as adults.
- Investing in smaller class sizes matters. Don’t have time to read the literature? Ask a teacher.
- Every state that ranks ahead of Colorado in achievement spends more than Colorado spends per pupil.
- Quality early childhood education, increased teacher salaries, summer school, professional development and well-integrated technology all require additional funding and all have been shown to have a positive impact on student achievement.
In short, the idea that “money doesn’t matter” is as ludicrous in education as it is in buying a car, a house, or seeking highly qualified staff in any business or profession.
MYTH: “We’re spending more on education now than ever and achievement hasn’t budged.”
This statement is based on two assumptions – and both are wrong.
First, we’re NOT spending more than ever in real terms. Consider these facts:
- Colorado isn’t keeping up with inflation and enrollment growth when it comes to school funding. In fact, we’re currently spending $831 million less than it would take to give schools the buying power they had in 2009. (That’s the equivalent of more than 10,000 teachers.)’
- After adjusting for inflation (and after adding significant new mandates, requirements, and expectations), Colorado spent $18 less per student in 2012 than it did in 1995.
Second, achievement has improved. Colorado’s graduation rates and achievement scores have improved over the past decade. It’s worth noting, that Colorado’s academic growth did not rise as quickly as the national average and that, at the same time, Colorado’s per pupil funding fell precipitously behind the national average.
Taxes keep going up!
Not in Colorado they don’t. Taxes as a share of personal income have declined in Colorado over the past 15 years.
- Colorado ranks 45th in combined state and local taxes, 48th in state taxes alone.
- Taxes as a percent of $1,000 of state income decreased between 1999 and 2009. Combined state and local taxes collected as a percent of state income declined by 24% during those years.
- Property taxes (the local tax base for schools) as a percent of total property value have declined. We used to be taxed on 21% of the value of our homes. (The assessment rate). Now it’s less than 8%. In addition, from 1995 to 2005, the average mill (property tax rate) for state school finance dropped by almost 40%.
MYTH: “We Can Spend Our Money Better Than The Government Can”
In the words former representative and member of the Joint Budget Committee, Don Marostica, who also served as Director of Economic Development for the State of Colorado:
“Well, sure, Coloradans know how to spend their money. But we also know we can’t personally hire a teacher, repair a failing bridge or hire a prison guard. That’s why we all pool our resources — to do things we can’t do individually, for the good of everyone.” Denver Post, February 8, 2015