So you just got elected (or re-elected) to the Colorado state legislature. But it’s not as much fun as you thought, because they say there’s this big budget deficit that has to be made up. And that means some spending cuts, which won’t make you the most popular person with a lot of the interest groups that depend on funding from tax dollars.
That includes K-12 education, which makes up the biggest part of the state’s general fund budget (about 45 percent). Some cuts will have to be made. But does that mean bad times for schools and students? Not necessarily, not if state leaders are willing to make some tough decisions. What sort of decisions? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The Independence Institute has created a really thick report known as the Citizens’ Budget to show how legislators can find lots of ways to save money without harming important services. This big project helps to show in detail what my mom and dad have taught me so well: it’s not about how much you spend as much as how smart you are about spending it. (That’s saved me from breaking the piggy bank on a couple occasions.)
My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote the section on K-12 education. You really need to read it to get a good basic grasp of how education funding currently works, as well as some ideas for savings. My #1 favorite way? Designed properly, a tuition tax credit program that better enables students to attend private schools not only could improve academic opportunities but also could save the state millions of dollars a year!
Shortly after the Citizens’ Budget was released, another group in Colorado known as the Centennial Institute released an insightful policy brief by former education commissioner William Moloney titled: “Much Better Schools on Much Lower Budgets.” The report covers a lot of ground, but one point I particularly like is highlighting the expensive and ineffective focus on class size reduction as a deeply flawed education strategy.
Taken together, these reports provide a complementary 1-2 punch that give lawmakers plenty of ideas and a clear path to make K-12 education in Colorado a more efficient and productive venture. Instead of wringing our hands about the fact schools don’t have more and more money per student, as in years past, it’s past time to start thinking outside the box and to get the job done.