This November, Colorado citizens will vote for or against the first progressive income tax and the largest income tax increase in the state’s history. The new tax will raise about $1 billion each year to increase funding for K-12 public schools and new pre-K-12 programs. The legislation that the new funding supports also changes the formula by which money is distributed to school districts in Colorado. For the past several decades, funding for schools across America has increased while outcomes have deteriorated. New taxes of this magnitude will place a burden on Coloradans with little promise of better graduation rates, job preparation or any other measures of improvement. There are education reforms throughout the country that are proving that outcomes can be achieved. Should Colorado increase funding with only a promise that we will see these reforms implemented? Maybe it’s time to think again.
There exists a veritable army of “experts” who conduct endless meetings and write volumes on ways to improve K-12 education. In Colorado, it’s popular to use statistics to prove that we simply don’t spend enough money. But over and over, throughout the country, we see proof that money alone won’t improve the measures that matter. We need look no further than nearby districts largely in Garfield County for evidence, admittedly anecdotal to prove the point. It’s also possible to find districts implementing real reform and resulting in student success.
Let’s first look at Garfield County offering an example of additional money and the subsequent outcomes:
Garfield County has two school districts:
School District 1 (RE-1) voted for a mill levy override in 2011, increasing school funding by $4.8 million. Based on this funding increase, “full-time teachers and staff in RE-1 each received a $1,500 bonus. It’s possible the school board could approve another bonus … using some of the remaining funds. ... Looking to 2012-13 … may also reinstate pay scale step increases using part of extra mill levy funds.” (Glenwood Springs Post Independent, 2012)
Last August, RE-1 students scored an average of 3 percent below last year on state reading and writing assessment tests, according to results of the 2013 TCAP test scores.
School District 2 (RE-2) voted down a $3 million mill levy override. The result of this vote led the school board to reluctantly cut one day out of the school week, reporting: “Students in the Garfield RE-2 School District will have a four-day school week beginning with the 2012-13 school year.” In August, the local newspaper reported “Officials celebrate test score gains! Officials are generally pleased with the academic progress of students in Rifle, Silt and New Castle. The four-day school week created a sense of urgency around maximizing student contact time, and ensuring that instruction was centered around academic standards,” Superintendent Susan Birdsey said. (Post Independent)
RE-1 raised taxes and gave teachers/staff bonuses, and TCAP test scores declined.
RE-2 voted down the tax increase, cut the school week by one day and emphasized academic standards, and test scores increased.
How can we break the cycle of spending more for education without improving educational outcomes? A start might be to look at Douglas County School District, experiencing academic success with lower costs. Douglas County’s transformational reform is built upon a foundation of world-class educational standards, school choice and pay for performance. Budget goals also were transformed, and between 2008 and 2013, Douglas County reduced central administration spending by 20 percent. So far, it’s working. In two years, on-time graduation rates increased from 83 to 87 percent. Teacher enthusiasm and satisfaction also improved as higher academic standards helped to determine opportunities and compensation for teachers. Another example of success can be seen in the Knowledge is Power Program charter school model. Students enrolled in KIPP schools spend more seat time in school and less time off in the summer. Parents must be supportive and involved in the program for their child to be accepted. Currently, there are 150 KIPP schools throughout the United States with three in Denver.
Colorado has great examples and opportunities to reform public schools.
Aspen schools are doing very well academically compared with other school districts in Colorado. Aspen High School is ranked 12th out of 124 districts in the state academically. However, Colorado is in middle of the nation that, by recent reports, is 31st in the world in math among 15-year-olds (10th-graders). Aspen 10th-graders scored 45 percent proficient or above in math on the recent TCAP test results.
Can and should we do better?
State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, represents House District 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.