By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
DENVER — Once upon a time, plowing the ground for an education tax increase was a rather straightforward endeavor.
Relatively flush economic times and a general complacency about the quality of suburban schools typically made established appeals “for the children” palatable enough to win at the ballot box — most famously in Colorado with Amendment 23 in 2000.
Nationally and at the state level, rising per-pupil spending with little results was the norm for decades, though not so much anymore.
Having sought a return to accelerated K-12 revenue, Colorado tax hikers are still reeling from the loud megaphone blast voters shouted in November. The Proposition 103 education income and sales tax increase couldn’t get the support of a Democratic governor. John Hickenlooper rightly observed that the people of Colorado had “no appetite” for a tax increase, and Prop 103 earned less than 40 percent of the vote. An unusually large share of local school tax proposals also went down in flames.
A year later tax hike proponents have shown signs of resilience, if not so much honesty and transparency. Sunana Batra, of the Colorado News Agency, published a hard-hitting piece Thursday on Colorado Commits, an ad campaign that seeks to paint a devastating picture of our state’s school funding.
However, Batra couldn’t get any of Colorado Commits’ backers to defend the campaign in public. Why? Probably because most of the information presented is dubious and misleading:
- Colorado “ranks last in teacher pay.”
Actually it’s more like 27th in average teacher salary according to the National Education Association.
- Colorado spends “$2,000 less per student than any state in our region.”
All sources show Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma and Utah spend less than Colorado, while Kansas and New Mexico outspend Colorado by much smaller sums — what exactly is “our region” anyway?
- Colorado has cut $2 billion from K-12 education budgets.
By measuring what? Every state-reported financial category rose in real dollars per student over the previous decade.
It’s understandable why picking up the phone to defend the touted claims would be hard for the Colorado Commits spokesperson to do.
It’s even harder when you consider that voter skepticism has grown along with economic hardship. A brand new survey from the Fordham Institute, a national education reform think tank, found more than four times as many voters prefer their fiscally challenged school district to “cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business” than “rely on tax increases”.
In 2010, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said schools needed to brace for the “new normal” of “doing more with less.” That reality — along with others — doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet for the folks behind Colorado Commits.