Paul Teske is Dean and University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. These views represent the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado System.
Liz Navratil’s front-page Denver Post story on Monday about schools charging students for books in AP courses and related budgetary charges is rather remarkable, and well-timed with the start of the Lobato case.
There are lots of opinions about how much money is needed for a good education. But, do we really want to charge students to pay for their books to take an AP class?
Yes, low-income students can apparently seek a waiver to get the district to pay for the AP course book, but that just adds another barrier. Aren’t we supposed to be encouraging all students, including lower income ones, to take rigorous and challenging courses, to keep our nation competitive, especially in math and science? There are already dozens of ways in which disadvantaged students are disadvantaged.
Still, we seem to have entered the era of pay-for-it yourself education. We are losing the notion that K-12 and higher education are at least partially public goods, where all other taxpayers benefit from the education of a someone else’s child (from their improved citizenship, likelihood of economic success and paying taxes, less likelihood of them being a burden on society, etc).
At the higher ed level, we now make students and families pay most of the costs (in Colorado we have gone from the state paying about 75 percent and the student paying 25 percent some 30 years ago, to the opposite ratio today, heading rapidly towards 100 percent student payment).
We are implicitly saying higher ed is mostly a private good. By eliminating most of the state subsidy, we force prices to move closer to costs, at all levels. Some colleges are now charging differential tuition depending on a student’s major.
Do you want a lab experience with that science degree?
And now the concept of pay-your-own-way seems to be infiltrating Colorado’s K-12 education system. It appears to already be the case that districts’ fiscal situations are forcing them to charge families extra for transportation, sports, music and arts programs, materials, etc. (those who can afford it, that is).
What’s next? Even in high school, we may soon be asking: “Do you want a lab with your chemistry class? Then you’ll need to pay extra for that.”
To be clear, I don’t blame the districts or schools. They face growing mandates and accountability with sharply reduced funding. They are caught between a rock and hard place. So, they start to charge for services formerly provided as part of the accepted educational compact.
Where does this slippery slope end? When will state leaders see this as a major problem and provide some leadership about explaining the need to generate more revenue? This is not theoretical – a revenue-generating proposal may soon be on the ballot, rolling tax rates back to 1999 levels.