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Video: Time to Rethink How Colorado Finances Student Learning Success

“Before we can do anything to fix Colorado schools, we just need to give them more money. …Right?” Well, Colorado taxpayers can’t afford to dish out more any time soon. Especially since the per-pupil spending increases of the past decade didn’t significantly impact student learning, and Colorado brings in more than $10,000 in tax revenues per student.

So begins a great new 2-minute video put together by my Independence Institute friends. It blends excerpts from a March 19 Colorado State Board of Education panel event here in Denver, “Making the Connections: School Finance Design and Student Achievement.” Two panelists in particular, national school finance experts, make a strong case that Colorado needs to think outside the box in designing a new system to fund learning success:

For some of my most loyal readers, you may recognize both Dr. Eric Hanushek and Dr. Marguerite Roza from previous writings here on this blog. In the video, Hanushek particularly provides a clear, forceful answer to the rhetorical question I used to open this post:

If the funds aren’t used effectively, and we know they aren’t in Colorado, then how do you possibly determine what it would take? Because it would be an infinite amount.

Later in the video, Roza gives hints at how Colorado could redesign a system:

If we could change the way we spend our money, and get a more close relationship to funding and student outcomes, we would get closer to empirically determining a spending number that gets us closer to an outcome level we are happy with.

But what are some specifics? There are lots of good ideas and food for thought we can look at that could take Colorado beyond the status quo. Interestingly, some of the key ones are included in the state’s own digital learning policy road map:

  • The public school student enrollment count system should allot funding based on multiple attendance count dates.
  • The school finance system should enable fractional funding to be allotted in smaller increments than full-time or half-time only, breaking up per-pupil revenues (PPR) by student and time to reach the course level.
  • School finance dollars should be delivered through “backpack funding” (also known as weighted student funding), in which per-pupil revenues (PPR) directly follow a student to the school and courses of his/her choice.

All right, Colorado. Let’s have that conversation. A serious conversation. We need to stop listening to those who tell us what we can’t do, and move forward with a plan that puts dollars inside the student’s backpack (not literally, of course) and creates incentives to spend dollars wisely toward learning success. Are you with me? Watch the video, and spread the word.