If only it were true that the $1 billion tax increase was going to result in dramatically improved student performance. If it were true that Colorado per capita school spending is near the bottom of the list of all states, then perhaps there would be some reason to abandon our flat income tax rate for not only an increase, but also a progressive tax. But neither assertion is supported by fact.
First, if state per capita spending is ranked from least to most, Colorado stands smack dab in the middle of the 50 states at $10,000 per capita. (See Table H-11 for 2011-12 expenditures, National Education Association, Rankings and Estimates, December 2012: www.nea.org/assets/img/content/NEA_Rankings_And_Estimates-2013_%282%29.pdf.) So the assertion that we are somehow at the bottom of the spending pyramid is not correct. Eighteen other states spend plus or minus 10 percent of Colorado’s spending and, to my knowledge, are not being pressured by either Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Bill Gates or President Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action group. Why are we so lucky?
Second, no evidence is offered that increased spending will improve student performance. Indeed, years of information gathering shows little to no improvement in math and reading scores for 17-year-olds from 1971 to 2012 (See National Assessment of Educational Progress, Summary of Major Findings: www.nationsreportcard.gov/ltt_2012/summary.aspx.) in spite of a doubling of per capita spending, in constant dollars, for roughly the same period. (See National Center for Education Statistics, US Department of Education, Table 213: www.nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_213.asp). Proponents would have us think that somehow they have found the holy grail of improved educational outcomes that have been evading the rest of the U.S. for years! This without defined measures for improved outcomes or for rescinding the tax increase if improvements are not achieved.
So, if neither one of the primary assertions behind the proposed amendment are true, then why have we been blessed with this avalanche of advertising, this plethora of propaganda, this torrent of TV supporting the new amendment? The Latin expression comes to mind: “Cui bono”? Well, obviously the teachers, administrators, the various educational unions all do. No surprises there. Our governor and the Legislature also do — with increased revenue, they can avoid difficult decisions. Some school districts do, too, at the expense of others. Which leaves us with explaining the attraction to Messrs. Bloomberg, Gates and Obama and suggesting that this vote has nothing to do with improving educational outcomes and everything to do with securing Colorado’s position for the Democratic Party in 2016. In other words, moving decision making farther and farther away from Steamboat Springs and nearer to D.C. This vote will be determined on the Front Range, and Routt County is small potatoes. It will be interesting to see, though, how our largely liberal city votes on its “contribution” of some $5 million: Will we, paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, continue to sacrifice a little bit of our liberty for a perceived improvement in safety until we have neither?
I submit that it is far past time that pendulum begins to swing back toward local control away from vested interests at the state and federal levels.