K-12 Education

Improving Colorado’s public education system is important for realizing our children’s full potential. Cultivating a high-quality education system benefits all Coloradans by creating a more skilled workforce, increasing economic growth in our communities. To ensure that every child graduates prepared for success in college, their career, and life, we must guarantee all students access to high-quality programs and schools that that are safe, supportive and inclusive and that meet their individual needs.

a boy reading a book on a carpet

Where Colorado Stands

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many new challenges for our public school students, who have experienced disruptions in their social, emotional, and academic learning. The most recent CMAS assessments, from spring 2021, offer a preliminary glimpse of how Colorado students were served over the 2020-2021 school year, in the midst of many COVID-related barriers. While the tests were administered on a limited basis, they suggest the growth of concerning inequities in our system, as students and families of color have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the students who were able to come in to test, the English Language Arts (ELA) assessments were given to those in grades 3, 5 and 7, while Math assessments were given to students in grades 4, 6 and 8.  

In comparison to 2019, student performance in 2021 generally declined across grade levels and subject areas. The larger performance declines were seen on the Math assessments: grades 4, 6 and 8 all saw large losses in the share of students meeting or exceeding expectations, with the largest drop in this area among 8th grade students. However, 6th grade students saw the lowest overall share of students meeting or exceeding expectations in Math, with just 24% meeting this benchmark.  

The results also indicate that Hispanic/Latino students, students identifying as English Language Learners, and students from low-income households who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) saw some of the strongest negative impacts on their learning. These inequitable impacts are due to both a history of policies and practices that disadvantage students of color and students from low-income households in the classroom, as well as a disproportionate lack of access to remote learning and essential supports during the pandemic.

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Academic resources are inequitably distributed among Colorado classrooms, and gaps between groups of students persist. The state’s districts serving the most students of color receive about 5%, or $549, less in funding for each student when compared to the districts serving the fewest students of color. This inequitable distribution of funds has impacts for how our students of color fare in the classroom. In 2019, 18% of Indigenous and Black students as well as 19% of Hispanic/Latino students scored proficient in Math, compared to 45% of white students. In English Language Arts, 29% of Indigenous students and Hispanic/Latino students as well as 30% of Black students demonstrated proficiency, compared to 55% of their white peers. 

When kids experience poverty or housing insecurity, it also impacts their academic outcomes. The stress of living in poor-quality housing can lead to lower math and reading scores for adolescents.  When families are forced to move frequently due to challenges with housing affordability or quality, or experience a period of homelessness, it means that kids have to change schools frequently or miss days of school. This has a negative impact on their chances for academic success and their educational attainment and earnings later in life.

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What the Children’s Campaign is Doing

Colorado has been putting in place education policy aimed at creating the excellent schools needed to create the outcomes of success we want for Colorado’s kids. There is still much to do to in response to the pandemic to ensure students and educators feel supported and seen. To reach these goals, the Children’s Campaign is focused on protecting and advancing:

  • Advocating for a modernized, equitable school finance formula that targets investments to meet the needs of all students;
  • Advocating for a more equitable and adequate K-12 revenue system that reverses the unsustainable reliance on state (over local) revenue for education, reduces property taxpayer inequality, and accounts for and equalizes differences in property wealth; 
  • Supporting meaningful assessments of students’ learning, evaluation systems that support educators and improve practice, and accountability systems that provide a holistic picture of school and student success; and 
  • Ensuring all Colorado students have access to safe, healthy and inclusive learning environments by investing in comprehensive support that is responsive to both students’ and educators’ social and emotional needs.  

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Safe and Supportive Schools

Great schools don’t happen by coincidence. There are several key elements needed to make great students and schools, including excellent teaching, high academic standards, and meaningful assessments of students’ achievement and growth. 

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School Finance Reform

The opportunity to overhaul how Colorado funds schools presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the potential of our education system. We must prioritize developing a school finance formula that targets investments to meet the needs of all students and accounts for the unique challenges posed by geography and poverty, among other factors.

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Educator Workforce

Educators are the most important influence on student achievement. As school districts struggle with teacher shortages and systemic inequities, we must work even harder to ensure that we hire, train and retain a diverse educator workforce so that every student receives a high-quality education.

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