BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
While state funding for K-12 education is the highest it has ever been at $8,480 per student, 104 out of 178 school districts in Colorado are now operating on a four-day school week, according to a just-released report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a 501(c)(3) centered on public policy to benefit children in three areas, one of which is K-12 education.
A large part of the problem lies in the outdated formula used to fund K-12 public school education in Colorado that depends on local property values to determine how much the state contributes to K-12 funding in each school district. It will be very complicated to change, but unless and until that is done, the large disparities will continue.
Dr. Brenda Bautsch Dickhoner and Chris Brown undertook a recent study called “Dollars and Data: A Look at K-12 Education Funding in Colorado” for the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR), a non-profit free-
enterprise think tank dedicated to the protection and promotion of Colorado’s economy. Dickhoner holds a PH.D. in public policy from the University of Colorado at Denver and has spent the last decade working in education policy at the national and state level.
The study found that “There is significant variation in the proportional amount taxpayers are contributing to public education through property taxes. Colorado’s education funding system sets a specific amount of total program funding for individual districts. Then it calculates how much each district will contribute through local revenues, and finally, backfills with state funding to get districts to their prescribed funding levels. The amount that local districts contribute to total program funding—which determines the amount of state subsidy to each district—is not based on an intentional policy design and varies dramatically throughout the state.”
The result is, “A taxpayer with a median value home in Pueblo, for example, pays $673.55 in property taxes for total program education funding, while a taxpayer in Kit Carson also living in a median value home pays $194.83. Given these flaws in how local dollars are contributed by districts to K-12 funding, the system does not raise revenue in the most effective, or even logical, manner.”
While there is general agreement that teacher salaries are too low in Colorado, they “vary dramatically around the state and within the Metro Denver region,” according to the CSPR study. It found that the average teacher salary in metro Denver was $56,621 in 2017. The state average was $51,810, which is 31st in the United States, but well above the average salary in the southeast region of our state, which was $38,157. “Teacher salaries in 95 percent of the state’s rural district are below the cost of living for their area,” according to the CSPR study, which concluded that the current method for school funding for K-12 education “collects revenues from taxpayers in an inequitable way and then fails to fully address the disparate local funding levels when allocating total program funding to school districts,” thus “careful thought should be given to any policies or ballot initiatives focused on K-12 education funding.”
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