Policy brief envisions ‘Better Schools on Lower Budgets’

Colorado’s second straight year of inevitable cuts in state aid to education can become an opportunity to improve learning performance while shedding needless costs, according to a policy brief from the Centennial Institute, Colorado Christian University’s think tank. The paper is online here: Centennial Policy Brief No. 2010–2

“Much Better Schools on Much Lower Budgets: A Primer for Colorado Policymakers” draws on proven models for achieving more with less, from schools across the country and around the world. “Our state has massive cost inefficiencies and educational deficiencies within the structure of K–12 education, built up over decades and crying out for correction,” says the author. Over $1 billion must be cut from projected spending in order to balance the 2011–2012 budget.

Students in neighboring Utah, the paper points out, significantly outperform Colorado students on the respected NAEP test, even though Utah’s spending per pupil is only 61 cents on the dollar compared to Colorado’s. Denver parochial schools succeed better with minority youngsters than nearby public schools, at just 55 cents on the dollar. Looking abroad, we see education systems from Canada to Korea to Germany far exceeding the United States in academic achievement at 30% lower cost.

The paper is organized in Q&A format around 20 concise topics, starting with “Admit: The US trails woefully in global rankings,” running through “See why the teaching profession has faltered” and “Realize school funding is bloated, not starved,” and concluding with recommendations to “Legislate boldly in 2011.”

William J. Moloney, former Colorado Education Commissioner with a lifetime of school experience in a half–dozen other states and countries, authored the policy brief in consultation with a panel of educators, legislators, and budget experts. “It is in our power to fix what is broken; all that’s needed is the political will,” Moloney writes in the introduction. “There will never be a more opportune moment to break out of the old paradigm.”

He calls on the General Assembly to reinterpret Amendment 23’s factor formulas in line with budget realities; offer local school districts a timeout from costly mandates, accreditation, and testing; allow schools to outsource many functions; encourage charters, vouchers, and tax credits; and defuse PERA’s “pension time bomb.”

John Andrews, director of the Centennial Institute, says in an editor’s note that when Moloney warned some weeks ago about Colorado public education becoming one of several “metastasizing entitlements that have reached a point of absolute unsustainability,” defenders of the education status quo replied in print with emotion, not logic. They deemed the former commissioner’s analysis “offensive to educators”—without attempting to refute it factually. (Denver Post, Oct. 3 and Oct. 14, 2010.)

In releasing the policy brief today, Andrews commented: “Centennial Institute and Bill Moloney will be working actively with legislators of both parties to help translate this new paradigm into budgetary solutions. With or without cooperation from teacher unions and the education lobby, the state’s dire fiscal condition is forcing policymakers to think way outside the box—and that’s good news for ill–served Colorado schoolchildren.”

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