Legislating (Not) By The Numbers

Thursday’s discussion of the proposed in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants in the Jewish Community Relations Council (where I represent the Denver Academy of Torah as a school), provided an object lesson in the difference between government and the real world.

This bill differs from prior years’ efforts in that it creates a third category of student rates.  Currently, there is Out of State, which is supposed to be priced higher than the cost of educating the student and in-state with the COFF subsidy, which is supposed to be less than the educational cost.  The third category would be “In-state without the COFF subsidy,” which would supposedly be, Goldilocks-style, exactly the cost of educating the student.  In this way, claim SB12-015’s advocates, the new law would cost neither the university nor the taxpayer.

The problem is that this claim is completely unverifiable.

The legislature has been trying for years to get the University of Colorado to tell it how much it costs to deliver a bachelors degree-quality education to a student, without result.  The university either can’t or won’t calculate and divulge that number.  While it’s true that there’s no immediate outlay from the state treasury, there’s simply no way to guarantee that the bill won’t end up as a net cost to the state’s already-strapped public universities.

The bill pretends to get to the “at-cost” number programatically, rather than through actual accounting. The program numbers can’t be any better than guesses.  At the state capitol, this is what passes for reality.

Whatever one thinks of the politics and the wisdom of passing such a bill – and there are strong arguments on both sides – it’s clear that the proponents’ arithmetical arguments don’t add up.

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