Small government: Designed to make the rich richer
Nothing rankles as much as Colorado Rep. Bob Rankin’s rantings on the state of education in the state of Colorado. His attitude is: “it’s a myth that the state is underspending on education.” (PI, 3-1-15) “We’ve got to fix K-12 education …” and, “I don’t believe anyone believes we are getting our money’s worth out of education.”
He does correctly identify TABOR, the 1992 tax reduction bill designed to keep rich Coloradoans rich. TABOR has caused about $900 million slated for state education to become stranded. Repeal of TABOR is long overdue.
Rep. Rankin’s view is that we are apparently wasting money that is spent on state education; that either it is being misused or we are just not getting the most bang for the buck. Actually, many in Colorado believe the actual problem is not enough money is being spent. On two state rankings I checked, Colorado was 38th and 41st on spending per student. In 2011 Colorado spent approximately $8,724 per student in K-12. That was down 1.5 percent from the year before. This rate per student is about half of what the leading states spend. Colorado’s teacher salaries declined 8 percent between 2002-2012.
This may be the kicker: “Colorado has reduced its support for higher education by nearly 69.4 percent, from $10.52 [per $1,000 of state personal income] in fiscal 1980 (and a peak of $13.85 in fiscal 1971) to $3.22 by fiscal 2011. At this rate of decline Colorado appropriations will reach zero in 2022, 11 years from now.” (American Council on Education) This is the biggest decline of any state in the nation. When I arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley in 1970, Colorado ranked at the top of all states for education. It is reasonable to say that kind of investment fueled Colorado’s strong economy and the big growth in “tech” industry.
Then I looked at an article in The Aspen Times called “Thirty struggling Colorado schools…” The article mentions a school in Colorado Springs and some in Pueblo. “The school is in a poor area of the city, and nearly 90 percent of its students are from low-income households.” I checked a few of those “1 star” schools (out of 5) on a site called “School Digger.” In three such schools in Pueblo, the Hispanic enrollment in the school was 84, 84 and 77 percent. At the “1 star” Carbondale Middle School the Hispanic population was 65 percent. At the “5 star” Aspen High School, on the other hand, the Hispanic population is 11 percent. It is possible that wealthier, more Anglo populations have better access to pre-kindergarten preparation.
None of this was mentioned in the article. Such practices stem from the Bush era’s “No Child Left Behind” that treated low-performing schools as losers and cut their resources. Obviously, these schools needed more help, not less. President Bush attended Phillips Academy where the tuition for day (non-boarding) students is about $38,000 per year. That begs the question: did President Bush’s parents “get their money’s worth out of (his) education?”
Unfortunately, the debate over government spending has been dominated since President Reagan by the ideology that spending must be reduced. In his 1981 inaugural address he said: “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” And then: “Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?” Well, we would have hoped that the guy who was giving this speech would have “the capacity to govern someone else.” How ironic is it that the very person who chose to campaign for the presidency and who has just taken the oath of office says forget about government, we don’t want it.
The reason “small government” is an “ideology” and not a tried and true “operating system” is the lack of actual governments that use this strategy for success. Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Egypt don’t have much for governments; anybody care to move to one of those? There are several European countries that have recently slashed their government expenditures. Their economies are on the rocks and their unemployment rates are multiple double digits. “Small government” is a fraud. The purpose of “small government” is to increase the redistribution of wealth to the already wealthy, pure and simple.
The TABOR Amendment must be destroyed, and politicians and others who pedal this scam should be held accountable. The quality of education in Colorado, and in the U.S., will determine the quality of the future, starting right now.
Patrick Hunter is a regular writer of letters to the editor who lives in Carbondale.
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This will be my 500th column — my final column in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.