Colorado Proposition 103: More tax dollars for schools does not improve kids’ education

If passed, Colorado Proposition 103 (ballot text) would increase state sales and incomes taxes for the alleged purpose of sending the additional revenue to government-run schools.  But it’s doubtful that throwing more tax dollars at government schools actually improves education for kids.

Consider per-pupil spending, as documented by the National Center for Education Statistics. It shows that, in constant dollars, per-pupil spending has doubled between 1973 and 2008.

[Graph source: Another Government Bailout,]

What has happened to standardized test scores during that time? has this data. This page shows results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math for 17-year-olds.  The finding? “At age 17, the average score in mathematics in 2008 was not significantly different from the scores in 2004 and 1973.”

How about reading? This page shows the “Trend in NAEP reading average scores for 17-year-old students.”  The conclusion is similar: “At age 17, the average reading score in 2008 was higher than in 2004 but not significantly different from that in 1971.”

The spending and test scores are no different in Colorado.

The NCES has a handy method to build a data table, from which I generated a spreadsheet of Colorado per-pupil spending for twenty years starting in 1988. Adjusting the figures for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator, I found that spending increased by 27% during this time.

Has this spending increase lead to improved education? One measure is the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP). Last year the Denver Post reported:

Scores on Colorado’s annual academic assessment again came back flat, a trend that continues year after year in a state that is touted for pushing education reforms. … The announcement of no change in CSAP scores has become a yearly mantra …

Yet, Colorado per-pupil spending increased by more than 21% between 1997 and 2008 (inflation adjusted dollars).

Increased spending has been correlated with schools hiring more teachers and other employees. As I wrote in the Denver Post:

According to NCES data, student-teacher ratios have decreased from 21 in 1973 to 15 in 2008. Using NCES data, education policy analyst Andrew Coulson found that government school employment doubled since 1970, while enrollment increased by only 10%.

In the article I also comment on teachers union campaign contributions:

If standardized test scores don’t track with increased tax funding for schools, what does?  Teachers union contributions to political candidates who support the public school cartel. Inflation-adjusted teachers union contributions have almost doubled since 1990, according to In each year at least 94% of contributions are toward Democrat candidates.  Last year, the Colorado Education Association gave “1 dollar to Republicans for every 235 dollars given directly to Democrats,” reports




Filed under public policy

2 responses to “Colorado Proposition 103: More tax dollars for schools does not improve kids’ education

  1. Pingback: Prop. 103 supporters: You can still donate more of your own earnings to tax-funded schools | wakalix

  2. Pingback: Prop. 103 supporters: You can still donate more of your own earnings to tax-funded schools | Independence Institute

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