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Is your Colorado kid shortchanged by $30,000?

Paul Teske is Dean and University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. (These views represent the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system).

Great Education Colorado had a wonderful lunch event last Wednesday, honoring Cary Kennedy (disclosure – I am a board member of Great Ed).

In his introductory remarks at the event, State Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, noted that Colorado is spending nearly $2,000 less per pupil than the national average. And, having been on the recent leadership exchange (LEX) visit to Boston, he noted that school districts in tMassachusetts, the highest performer on the NAEP tests, spend about $7,000 more per pupil than we do in Colorado. Johnston also reported that this amounts to about $175,000 more per class room (!) that Massachusetts spends than we do in Colorado.

Since our K-12 and higher education funding problems in Colorado have been with us for nearly 20 years, I think people lose sight of how large they are, and even many people in favor of more funding shrink at the political prospect of trying to generate more resources (or they have a version of Stockholm syndrome, not to be confused with Finland syndrome).

In K-12 funding, by the most conservative estimates, Colorado is at least $1,500 per student below the national average in spending. And, in higher education, the state support is about $3,000 per pupil below the national average.

As with the Johnston example, these are actually very large numbers. To illustrate, consider a Colorado student who attends K-12, and graduates, and then attends a Colorado public college for four years (admittedly, we have lots of students who don’t make it that far, alas).

Compared to a national average student in the United States, that students gets $1,500 less spent on his/her K-12 education, every year, for a total of $18,000 from K through 12th grade. Then, in college, this student gets $12,000 less spent on his/her education, compared to the national norm.
That totals to $30,000 for EACH Colorado kid that is not invested in his or her education, compared to the American average (and probably $60,000 less than a Massachusetts kid). A Lexus-worth of educational investments not made in each of our kids.

Now, maybe you think the other 295 million people in The U.S. Who create the national average spending figures are crazy people. Perhaps they tax themselves way too much to educate their children. I find that notion puzzling, but some like to make that argument.

Contrast these numbers like a $30,000 investment shortfall per kid with the modest proposal of Proposition 103. Prop 103 would roll income and sales tax rates back to the levels of 1999, and would cost the typical household that earns the Colorado median income of about $55,000 a total of $133 per year in new taxes, or less than $3 per week.

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