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Proposition 103: More Tax Dollars for Schools Makes No Sense

Do you want government to throw even more of your tax dollars at Colorado teachers unions and their pet politicians, or do you actually want better education for Colorado children?

Proposition 103 is about throwing money. Sponsored by Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder), and endorsed by Colorado’s largest teachers union, the initiative would increase income tax rates by 8.0% and sales tax rates by 3.4% — both for five years.

But decades of increasing school funding has not increased student test scores. It has created jobs for teachers and revenue for their unions that almost exclusively support Democratic politicians. These politicians sustain tax-funded schools as a monopolistic cartel that squashes competition and limits choice for parents and taxpayers.

Nationally, per-pupil spending has more than doubled since 1973, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). But standardized test scores have been stagnant. According to The Nation’s Report Card, 2008 math and reading scores were “not significantly different from” scores in the early 1970s.

Colorado is similar. From 1998 to 2008 per-pupil spending increased by roughly 25%, according to inflation-adjusted NCES data. But the Denver Post reported that “scores on Colorado’s annual academic assessment again came back flat, a trend that continues year after year … The announcement of no change in … scores has become a yearly mantra.”

If standardized test scores don’t track with increased tax funding for schools, what does? Teachers union contributions to political candidates who support the public school cartel. Inflation-adjusted teachers union contributions have almost doubled since 1990, according to OpenSecrets.org. In each year at least 94% of contributions fund Democrat candidates. Last year, the Colorado Education Association gave one dollar to Republicans for every 235 dollars given directly to Democrats in state elections.

What do Democrats do after teachers unions help get them elected? Last year’s “teacher bailout” is an example. A Democratic Congress and president sent states $10 billion in tax dollars to prevent teacher layoffs. Most of these bailed out teachers pay union dues to again support politicians to further entrench the cartel.

While test scores have been flat, unionized teacher employment has soared. According to NCES data, student-teacher ratios have decreased from 21 in 1973 to 15 in 2008. Education policy analyst Andrew Coulson found that government school employment doubled since 1970, while enrollment increased by only 10%. Colorado local K-12 education agencies have one employee for every 7.5 enrolled students..

Further, classroom instructors, who represent less than half of the 110,000 K-12 employees, are paid in unproductive ways. Nearly 2 percent of Colorado’s K-12 operating budgets fund “master’s bumps”—automatic pay raises for teachers’ graduate credits and degrees. Yet studies overwhelmingly show these credentials hardly improve student achievement.

A long-time president of national teachers unions got it right: “Public education operates like a planned economy …. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve; it more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy,” wrote Albert Shanker — in 1989!

If you really care about supporting children’s education, you should not tolerate government’s requiring you to fund schools just because you live near them. This is counterfeit caring – like saying you want to see good movies, but having a stranger choose which movies you see. Proposition 103 would perpetuate such counterfeit caring and cripple your ability to make a real difference.

By contrast, education tax credits promote authentic caring. Say you’re taxed $1,000 a year to fund local public schools. But you’d prefer to support another school or scholarship fund that has proven its worth to you. A tax credit program that allowed $500 for such a donation, or for each $1,000 in tuition paid for private school tuition, could save Colorado millions of dollars.

Education tax credits give local public schools incentive to innovate and prove their value to taxpayers. A 2010 study of the nation’s largest tax credit program, in Florida, found that greater competition improved public school performance—without raising taxes.

If you want to enrich unions and politicians who support an unproductive public school cartel, vote for Proposition 103. If you want better education for all children, ask your politicians to support education tax credits, which promote diversity and choice for Colorado’s families.

Brian Schwartz is a research associate for the Independence Institute. Ben DeGrow is senior policy analyst for the Institute’s Education Policy Center