Common Sense Policy Roundtable releases education funding study

Written by: Leslie Colwell
Date Posted: September 6, 2019

While K-12 education funding is at an all-time high in Colorado, structural flaws in the system create inequities for local taxpayers and the amount of funding distributed to school districts. This is a key finding of a study released recently by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, the coalition of business leaders and organizations that examine the state’s economic challenges and opportunities.

The report, called “Dollars and Data: A Look at K-12 Education Funding in Colorado,” examines trends over the last decade on teacher pay and funding differences across the state. It provides baseline data and analysis to ground conversations about education funding in facts.

The report’s authors draw particular attention to structural problems in both the K-12 revenue system and the formula that allocates dollars to schools. On the revenue side, Colorado’s property tax system requires certain communities to contribute disproportionately more to support education via their tax rate. As we have written about in previous KidsFlash posts, property tax rates for education range between 1.68 and 27 mill levies. This range is not based on any policy rationale or on decisions by local voters – it is purely an unintended consequence of TABOR. The report argues that Colorado’s revenue system does not raise revenue in the most effective, or even logical, manner.

Inequities are exacerbated in how funds are then delivered to districts. Our current formula, which is 25 years old, distributes additional funding to districts with high costs of living to the tune of three times more than it distributes to districts serving students living in poverty. In addition, voters in some school districts have approved mill levy overrides to generate additional funding for their schools – and we know that this has deepened the disparities in funding across the state.

The report also finds that teacher salaries vary dramatically across the state, and that salaries for instructional staff declined 3.5 percent between 2007 and 2017, while spending on educator benefits increased by 1.5 percent over the same period. A key finding of the report is that pouring more money into a funding system with serious structural flaws is unlikely to improve student outcomes, and may in fact serve to perpetuate and even increase existing inequities. To read the full report, click here.

Leslie Colwell

About Leslie Colwell

Leslie Colwell serves as the Vice President of K-12 Education Initiatives, leading the Campaign’s work to improve education in the state of Colorado. Before joining the Children’s Campaign in August of 2014, Leslie worked to facilitate partnerships and produce policy agreements, especially in the area of education as an Associate at The Keystone Center. Her professional experience includes working as Legislative Director for State Senator Mike Johnston, managing his education policy portfolio (including his office’s work on HB12-1238, Colorado’s READ Act, and SB13-033, ASSET), and directing a policy fellowship for educators for three summers. Leslie has also worked on Teach For America’s alumni team, and before that taught 6th grade Math and Earth Science as a TFA corps member at Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles. She currently serves on the board of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization (CLLARO) and on the steering committee of the Colorado Afterschool Partnership.