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COSFP’s School Funding, Instruction Story Not So Spooky with All the Facts

Yesterday I shared a really interesting survey-based analysis by Dr. Martin West that strongly suggests the average American has a good handle on how well their local schools perform, but a lot less accurate picture of how well their local schools are funded.

On average, voters underestimate how much is spent per pupil by their local school districts, more than one-third less than the real financial picture. While there could be a number of sources and factors that lead people to such inaccurate conclusions, groups like the Colorado School Finance Project (COSFP) certainly don’t help when they omit $934 million in spending reported by the Department of Education to make the K-12 budgetary picture look bleaker.

Well, they’re ba-a-a-ack. ‘Tis Halloween week, after all. And although my parents have effectively limited my exposure to the world of all things creepy and spooky, I am all too familiar with the experience of reading the selectively scary stories of K-12 funding that COSFP and others peddle. Just look at the group’s latest monthly update:

From the U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances FY 2011-12: Colorado spent $31.91 of Personal Income on PK-12, ranking 47th in the nation. The map is available here. The full U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances: 2012 report, here.

The Education Commission of the States reports on state minimum requirements for the Number of Instructional Days/Hours in the School Year, October 2014 update. Per the report, the majority of states require a minimum of 180 student instructional days, Colorado’s minimum is 160 student instructional days.

Fortunately for you, friendly readers, I have looked at these two reports. And guess what? There are some important pieces being left out of the story. Please don’t act so shocked. At least COSFP is saying “47th” and not “49th.” Yet the whole use of this “Personal Income” statistic (which is used to give Colorado the lowest possible education funding ranking) has an easy solution:

One of the best ways to increase Colorado’s ranking would be to banish some of the highest earners from the state.

Besides, it’s considerably less scary to point out that the same U.S. Census Bureau report says Colorado ranks 40th in actual per-pupil spending for 2011-12. And while COSFP elsewhere cites a statistic from the NEA Rankings and Estimates publication, they never bring up the fact that the same source says Colorado ranked 22nd in 2011-12 at $10,672 spending per pupil. Sharing that information would be more like watching Barney the Dinosaur than Tales from the Crypt — far more annoying (at least so say my parents) than spooky.

Then there’s the second piece, from Education Commission of the States. Hey, guess what? COSFP is correct it says most states require more instructional days than Colorado does. But the same isn’t close to true when it comes to required instructional hours.

According to ECS, 15 states don’t have hour-based floors for student instruction. Colorado’s minimum requirements are higher than 19 of the 34 other states for students at all levels (968 hours for K-8, 1,056 hours for 9-12). Among the supposedly backward states with lower requirements across the board:

  • California
  • Oregon
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • Ohio
  • Minnesota
  • Pennsylvania

Our minimal instructional hours for all students are lower than 9 states. In the remaining states the requirements are higher for some students and lower for others.

Knowing just a few key facts like these about what lies behind the creaky, cobweb-covered door makes that once darkened room less spooky. Guess that doesn’t exactly make Colorado K-12 a Haunted House, like some would have you to believe. So now when I shout “Boo!”, you’re less likely to get frightened and jump. But if you’re really into the whole Halloween thing, I’m sure you can find some other mythical story to get all scared about.