One might not know it from watching television but there is a great deal to this election beyond the presidential race. Control of Congress is at also stake, as well as the makeup of state and local governments.
There are ballot issues, too. Some of the most interesting of those this time around are efforts in Arizona, California, South Dakota, Oregon and Missouri to increase funding for public education. While Colorado is not among them, the results in those states should be of interest. They could point the way to school funding fixes applicable elsewhere – or warn other states off an unworkable approach.
As The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, adjusted for inflation those states have seen their per student spending reduced by amounts ranging from 2.3 percent in Missouri to a whopping 21.8 percent in Arizona.
They are hardly alone. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which the Journal described as a “left-leaning think tank,” said funding for K-12 schools remains below 2008 levels in 35 states. School districts have reacted in the only ways possible, by ending some programs and cutting where they can.
Labor Department statistics show that U.S. public schools have cut 264,200 employees, although the losses have not been uniform. Arizona’s Tucson Unified School District had to cut almost 800 teachers and is in the process of closing 31 additional schools.
But cuts like that take more than fat, and schools have broad public support. In response, school supporters in Arizona, California, South Dakota, Oregon and Missouri are asking the voters for more money. California voters actually face two school-related ballot measures. They differ in the details, but both would increase taxes and send more money to schools. (If both are approved, the one with the most votes wins.)
Of course, there is no guarantee any of these will pass. Besides a general aversion to taxes, there are some interesting objections to school spending.
One is that putting more resources into a broken system is not the answer. Critics who embrace that thinking point to U.S. Department of Education numbers showing that, adjusted for inflation, nationwide per pupil spending is more than it was 10 years ago – $10,434 now, as opposed to $9,480 a decade ago.
That is hard to refute, but then so is the self-evident fact that it takes money to run a school district. And cuts of more than 20 percent, as in Arizona, or 17 percent, in California, have got to have an effect.
In any case, Nov. 6 could be telling. If all five states raise taxes, others – including Colorado – might follow. But the reverse could also be true. Optimistic supporters just need to recognize, that while not the answer they want, “no” is an answer.