Public school funding has been a frequent topic of discussion in the Colorado media over the last several months, and I expect the discussion will intensify in the months ahead as citizens debate the merits of Proposition 103, which would raise state income and sales tax rates for five years to provide additional funding for K-12 education; as we wait for and then review and analyze the court's judgment in the Lobato lawsuit challenging the adequacy of school funding in Colorado; as we observe the debate in Congress concerning the President's pending jobs proposal, including its allocation of resources for school construction and preservation of teaching jobs; and as we head into a new state legislative session in January in which school finance issues are likely to once again be at or near the top of the agenda.
Most of these discussions focus on the inputs into public education -- for example, the per pupil funding provided for K-12 education in Colorado compared to other states, as well as the services and supports for students that proponents believe are needed but have been cut, or have never been provided in our state. Very few of these discussions concentrate on the outputs of Colorado's public school system, and so I was pleased to receive a flyer recently that focused on outputs -- and concluded that taxpayers in Colorado receive a strong return on their investment in public education.
The flyer which was forwarded to me was prepared by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, and the National Chamber Foundation. It was distributed at a recent meeting of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce. The publication includes the following analysis regarding Colorado school funding in a section captioned Return on Investment:
Student achievement in Colorado is very strong relative to state spending on education according to the 2007 national Leaders and Laggards report. Colorado received an A and ranked 6th among all states for its return on investment, which was measured by its students' performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) -- an independent measuring stick also known as the Nation's Report Card -- relative to its per pupil spending ($6,732, after controlling for student poverty, the percentage of students with special needs, and cost of living).
Stated in different terms, Colorado public schools produce very strong results for students with the limited funding they receive. If public schools were a business traded on the stock exchanges, we'd get high marks from the financial analysts, as our profits relative to capital -- or in the education world, our student achievement results relative to school funding -- are in the top 12 percent of the industry sector.
Of course, individuals making investment decisions look not only to past performance, but to predictors of future performance as well. Colorado's policymakers and its leaders in public education, like their successful counterparts in the business sector, have been working to refine, and in some cases completely redevelop, our product so that it produces even greater student achievement in the future. We've adopted new content standards that set higher expectations for what students need to learn and be able to do as they complete each grade level; are working to develop new assessments that evaluate student proficiency in these standards; have developed data and accountability systems that require schools and school districts to identify the root cause behind deficient performance, as well as research-based strategies to improve performance; and are developing a new teacher evaluation framework that will incorporate student achievement output data, support development of teachers as they refine their craft, and reduce burdens to the removal of poor performing veteran teachers.
The Chamber's Education in Colorado report notes that the new content standards have received A-/B+ scores from independent entities such as the Fordham Institute; that our data systems are among our comparative strengths; and that the changes to teacher evaluation and tenure changes will remedy concerns that have landed us in the "bad" column on their teacher policy criterion in the past. My conclusion -- and an objective one, I would submit, given the content of the Chamber's report -- is that these national business leaders see great promise for even greater return on investment in Colorado's public education system in the future.
The challenge for those of us engaged in this enterprise of public education is not unlike that faced in the business sector. We have a strong record of return on investment, and we've begun work -- and have plans for additional improvements -- to our product that analysts in the field believe hold great promise. In order to realize the greater student achievement outputs that we all agree are necessary for our students, state, and nation to prosper in the future, however, we need -- just like promising businesses in the private sector -- investment of additional capital to move these changes from the planning and idea stage to the implementation stage.
As the funding debate continues in the coming months, we'll undoubtedly hear many critics of additional funding make public sector/private sector comparisons to support their positions. It would be a refreshing change of direction if these discussions began to analyze proposals for additional investment in public education through the same lenses used to evaluate proposed investment in private enterprise. As noted above, there is a compelling business case to be made for additional investment in Colorado's public school system.