Stengel Leads Colorado Toward “First Class Education”

While most of Colorado’s political observers have their eyes fixed on this year’s fight over Referendum C or towards next year’s gubernatorial race, a highly important new development was scheduled to emerge at a press conference this morning at the State Capitol.

House Minority Leader Joe Stengel (R – Littleton) and several of his Republican colleagues have unveiled an initiative they are promoting to put on the ballot in the November 2006 general election. “First Class Education for Colorado” would encourage every school district in the state to spend 65 cents on every dollar (excluding capital construction projects) in the classroom. Most people may be startled to learn how little of their designated K-12 education tax dollars actually make it to the areas where it should have the most direct impact – on teachers, textbooks, student computers, and classroom supplies. (Stengel’s proposal would add libraries.)

And this is an issue where Colorado is in genuine need – ranking 47th out of the 50 states and D.C. in the percentage of education dollars spent in the classroom. If our state followed the 65-percent rule, we could have put $370 million more in the classroom during the 2002-2003 school year (most recent statistics available) without increasing taxes or spending by one dime!

While Colorado as a state ranks particularly low in the classroom spending percentage category, some notable school districts in our state rank especially low:

  • Colorado Springs 11: 50.7%
  • Jefferson County: 51.7%
  • Denver Public Schools: 54.4%
  • For more information on the basic First Class Education proposal, please go to their website.

    While the proposal is far from the be-all and end-all of education reform, it is a clear and definite step in the right direction. Kudos to Rep. Stengel and the other Republicans standing beside him for promoting a “First Class Education for Colorado.”

    Added 1:50 p.m.: And some constructive criticism for the Denver Post‘s Mark Couch for opening his story on the proposal with this slanted and misleading sentence:

    House Minority Leader Joe Stengel wants Colorado voters to consider a national conservative-backed measure to increase classroom spending by diverting money from buses, buildings and lunches.

    How about making school districts fiscally leaner operations by cutting back on some of those top-heavy administration costs? And how about the fact that “building” and capital construction costs are not accounted for in current expenditures? The 65-percent solution has no effect on money used on building projects.

    Then there’s this:

    According to numbers compiled by that group, Colorado’s school districts spend 57.8 percent of their money on instruction. Denver Public Schools spent 54 percent of its funding in classrooms in 2002-03, First Class Education said.

    A subtle omission perhaps? Yes, First Class Education compiled the data, but compiled it from the National Center for Education Statistics – probably the most highly credible and objective source of K-12 education statistics out there.

    Then there’s the predictable response from defenders of the cherished status quo:

    Critics said the proposal pre-empts a legislative committee that will study all aspects of school finance this summer and fall. They added that it strips local control from school boards.

    Within the 65 percent, local school boards would have tremendous latitude. The “local control” argument is a typical canard. In most cases, local school boards don’t have the ability or political will to defy the powerful teachers’ union. And when they try something innovative, like the Ignacio Market Driven Compensation Plan, “local control” goes by the wayside.

    Hey, speaking of the teachers’ union, I wonder why there were no quotes from Colorado Education Association officials in Couch’s article. I’m sure he probably gave them a call, but maybe they gave him the silent treatment.

    That’s strange, when you consider the proposal to put more money into the classroom could only improve teacher compensation without raising the tax burden on teachers and their families. You’d think they might at least have an interesting comment on the topic? I look forward to hearing CEA’s response.

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