Erase to the Top: Solving Public Education Funding

The public education funding formula in the United States is broken. There is little argument there. But it isn’t more money that is needed to fix it; it’s a re-routing of the order funds are distributed.

It is disturbing to watch academic performance in America continue to spiral into a vortex of failure while politicians and bureaucrats demand more, and more money. And no one has an answer when asked how much money is enough to fix public education, or at least the education budget.

Take Colorado for example that is, just like other states, currently going through its annual K-12 public education budget of proposed $5.4 billion. Per some legislators there is about a $1 billion shortage which is- of course- going to land on this fall’s ballot in form of yet another tax increase.

Not unlike other states, Colorado has a mixed bag of education outcomes. In the top performing school district, one of every five high school graduates need to re-take high school classes prior to setting foot in college classes.

Now that’s best case scenario, as only 33% of the kids that graduate from Denver Public Schools make it to community college without requiring remedial work.

We all know we the saying “you get what you pay for,” and in the United States we don’t really fund public education; we pay for public education bureaucracy.

What’s worse is that the first people to get funded are government bureaucrats and the last persons paid are the teachers.

Ed reformFeds, states and school districts shave money off the budget to pay for all sorts of departments and programs before any money lands in the classroom in form of teacher salaries, textbooks and other student resources,

Instead of pumping more money into the system, how about we revert the funding formula, paying for classroom needs first and see how much bureaucracy we can afford with what is left over?

As a parent I have never needed to contact any of the 5,000 US department of Education staff members in order to find education for my children. Nor do I need the assistance of the hundreds of state employees to know what my child needs to learn or where he is struggling.

The person that I have partnered with in my child’s education though is my child’s teacher.

Besides the parent, our children’s teachers are the individuals who have the greatest affect on their academic success- or failure. But in the public education food chain the teacher is the least valued- both in order paid and salary. And if you are not at the table, you might be on the school lunch menu.

Which is again the case for our teachers, as they are the first to have their heads on the chopping block when government pretends to cut public education spending.

This practice is very much by design as few would notice if there was one less suit behind a desk at state or federal level. But parents certainly know if their favorite teacher got pink-slipped.

Cutting teacher salaries or positions make such great fodder for bond elections that one can predict a coming tax-increase request by watching when school districts implement things like teacher lay-offs, cutting bus-routes, or increasing book and activity fees.
It’s an effective campaign tactic to get parents to tell their neighbors how dire education funding is and ask for their support at the ballot box.

Oddly enough these are practices we deem acceptable only for government.

Imagine the public outrage if a private mission specific non-profit- or God forbid, for profit- entity failed to get the funds to the actual cause.

If the Red Cross ran their business the way the government runs public education and only returned nickels on the dollar to the needy there would be front-page debacles in the news. There would be organized boycotts and 99% squatters outside Wall Street that would picket and poop in the streets in protest.

Deep down we all know more money will never actually fix the academic quality, nor the inequality. That’s just something we are told to guilt us into voting for higher taxes. And it works!

It’s like watching an addict that swears reform after a drunken night gone badly, because this time they really mean it. Us voters play our role as the enablers by continuing to vote for tax-increases because like the suckers we are, we predictably like the idea that “it’s for the kids,” or at least “the teachers.”

In that, us voters are the accomplices to an education system that is failing our kids and bankrupting our country.

What we need to fix public education funding is a robust 12-step recovery and reform program.

And folks, admission is the first step to recovery. So let’s admit it: Our government’s education funding model is butt-backwards that yields expensive bureaucracy with a side dish of subpar education results.

Secondly, only a tough-love approach from us voters will work to get real changes done to the system. That means that we will need to insist on electing people to every post who are willing to do the hard work and implement real changes to the system, and not just make-believe-reforms to appease the unions and special interest groups.

In addition, tough-love would mean not voting for school tax increases until the real problems in education are solved, ironically for two reasons: our kids and teachers.

Karin Piper

Colorado PolitiChick Karin Piper is an award winning author and transparency expert specializing in education and union transparency. She provides policy tools necessary for parents, union memberis, teachers and decision makers to become informed consumers in the educational marketplace. She also serves as executive director of, an organization she helped found, and works with various other non-partisan likeminded organizations. Karin was a finalist for OGI's 2012 Burke-Carr Public Interest Awards and nominated as candidate for Charter School Friend of the Year in 2009. Her knowledge of state and federal open records laws and tireless advocacy for open union negotiations has been featured by major media outlets across the nation. Her debut book, CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Ultimate Handbook for Parents, was awarded a 2009 finalist in best books for parenting and education, by USA Book News and appeared in bookstores around the world. Born and raised in Sweden, she lives in Douglas County, Colorado, the epicenter of education reform. Karin is a frequently sought as a parental voice and expert opinion in response to much of today's political edu-rhetoric and legislation proposals. She has been interviewed by many news outlets, including CBS, NBC, KNUS, EdNews, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, and many others.

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