Robinson: Haphazardly throwing money at education not the solution
Author: Doug Robinson - June 12, 2017 - Updated: May 14, 2018
I was pleased to read Paula Noonan’s education piece, as it provides an excellent illustration of the origin of Colorado’s budget problems. While Ms. Noonan rattles off the shortcomings in Colorado’s educational performance with ease, she is decidedly more vague about her prescription for success. Her solution? Spend another billion dollars a year. An answer that sounds remarkably similar to those given by politicians on both sides of the aisle for every problem — just spend more money.
She defends her belief that “money has to be the starting point for quality” by cherry picking data from Governing magazine to note that Kansas spent $3,833 per student on instructor salaries and achieved an 86 percent graduation rate. Of course, she overlooks the fact that our other neighbor, Utah, spends $2,562 per student on instructors, the least of any state, and achieves an 84 percent graduation rate.
This isn’t a fluke. Studies by both right leaning Heritage Foundation and left leaning Center for American Progress point out that increased spending doesn’t necessarily lead to improved educational outcomes. Bureaucracies have a way of ballooning. Such is the case here in Colorado, where our student population rose 52.7 percent between 1990 and 2013; yet over that same period, the number of school administrators ballooned by 85.1 percent. Is this where Ms. Noonan wants her “billion dollars a year” to go?
If we are going to be serious about addressing the challenges that our education system faces, the starting point in our conversations shouldn’t be money; it should be our goals. Once we have a set goal of, say, raising our graduation rate to 86 percent like our neighbors, we can then turn to the question of how to get this done — likely by embracing some of the very policies Ms. Noonan characterizes as distractions: charter schools, teacher training and academic standards. Only once we have these plans in place can we then ask, “How much will these solutions cost?”