Amendment 66, Ari Armstrong, Politics

Amendment 66 Supporters’ Lesson for Children: How to Mislead with Statistics

Apparently the first lesson that supporters of Amendment 66—the massive tax hike for government schools—wish to impart on Colorado’s children is how to use misleading statistics to distort the facts.

An infographic on the “Yes on 66” Web page claims that “Colorado isn’t keeping up” on per-pupil spending relative to “nearby states.” But the supporters of Amendment 66 are cherry-picking the data and omitting relevant information.

The “Yes on 66” Web page compares Colorado to five other states: Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and New Mexico. All these states spend more per pupil “adjusted for regional cost differences” (however that was done). What’s interesting about this list is that Montana doesn’t even border Colorado, but several actually “nearby” states are omitted: Oklahoma, Arizona, and Utah.

icon_op_edSo let’s compare Colorado’s actual spending and education outcomes to states that are actually nearby. For “expenditures for public K-12 schools per student in fall enrollment, 2011–12,” I’m using data from the National Education Association (page 55). For education outcomes, I’m using a 2011 study from the Daily Beast based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. (Obviously education outcomes can be measured in many different ways, but I’ll take this as a reasonably good indicator.)

Notably, Colorado ranks 26th in per-pupil spending among all states—right in the middle.

Using figures from the sources mentioned, here’s how Colorado actually stacks up relative to nearby states:

State: Colorado

Per-pupil spending: $10,001

National ranking in Outcomes: 11

State: Utah

Per-pupil spending: 6,849

National ranking in Outcomes: 28

State: Wyoming

Per-pupil spending: $16,666

National ranking in Outcomes: 34

State: Nebraska

Per-pupil spending: $9,402

National ranking in Outcomes: 24

State: Kansas

Per-pupil spending: $9,518

National ranking in Outcomes: 16

State: Oklahoma

Per-pupil spending: $8,285

National ranking in Outcomes: 47

State: New Mexico

Per-pupil spending: $10,203

National ranking in Outcomes: 49

State: Arizona

Per-pupil spending: $6,683

National ranking in Outcomes: 40

What we can glean from these numbers is that Colorado already spends more money than do most nearby states on education on a per-pupil basis, and that only Wyoming (a fossil-fuel rich state) spends dramatically more.

Moreover, the two nearby states that spend more than Colorado does (for the period in question)—Wyoming and New Mexico—rank considerably worse in education outcomes. This hardly supports the case that spending more money on government schools makes them better.

We’ve all heard that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics”—and in this case the “Yes on 66” campaign has used third type to deceive the voting public. Supporters of Amendment 66 have published dishonest, misleading statistics intended to misrepresent the relevant facts. What’s sad is that these are the people who want to help control how children in Colorado are educated.

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