The National Report Card Highlights the Unfair Level and Distribution of School Aid in Colorado

BOULDER, CO ?– Colorado’s funding of public education gets low marks in the recently released fifth edition of “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card.” The state’s low level of funding and failure to make a reasonable investment to support its public schools earns Colorado poor marks when compared to many other states.

The National Report Card (NRC), issued annually by the Education Law Center (ELC) and Rutgers University, evaluates states on four separate, but interrelated, “fairness indicators” ? state fiscal “effort,” funding level, funding distribution, and public school “coverage.” The NRC provides the most in-depth analysis to date of state public education finance and school funding fairness across the nation.

Colorado receives a grade of “F” for the state’s effort to invest in its schools. Effort is based on the percentage of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) allocated to education.

The state’s low effort results in a low funding level. Colorado ranks of 34 out of 49 on the level of per-pupil funding provided to public schools. Colorado’s average state and local revenue per pupil in 2013 was $8,727, over a thousand dollars below the national average of $9,766 per pupil.

On the important funding distribution measure, Colorado was among 18 states that had no substantial variation in funding between high poverty and low poverty school districts, disregarding the needs of their most disadvantaged students. Colorado scores a C in funding distribution only because many other states are similarly weak in this measure. Funding distribution measures the key issue of whether a state’s funding system recognizes the additional resources required for students in settings of concentrated student poverty.

Two Colorado’s districts are also featured in a companion report Is School Funding Fair? America’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts. The list features school districts that have higher than average student needs compared to other districts in their labor market and lower than average resources. Adams-Arapahoe has a poverty rate that is 77% higher than its neighbors, and receives only 89% of the average state and local funding. Greeley’s poverty rate is about one-third higher than its neighbors and it receives 88% of the area’s average funding.

Like its neighbors, Colorado scores well on public school coverage, ranking at number 5. Coverage examines the share of school-aged children who attend public schools and compares the median household income of those children with the income levels of families who do not use public schools. Only about 8% of Colorado school children attend nonpublic schools. The income disparity between public and nonpublic school households is relatively low, with nonpublic households receiving about a quarter (25%) more income than public school households, on average. Recent failed attempts to use public dollars for private school voucher programs will help ensure Colorado’s public schools continue to serve a diverse student population.

“This report provides policymakers, legislators, and concerned citizens with the information they need to assess their state’s commitment to fair school funding and to advocate for improvements in the many states where that is absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Bruce Baker of Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, a co-author of the National Report Card.

“The State’s continuing failure to fairly fund public education deprives Colorado students of the teachers, support staff and other resources necessary for a high quality education,” said David G. Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center and a co-author of the National Report Card. “We hope the NRC results will serve as a wake-up call for lawmakers to put school funding reform at the top of the education agenda.”

“These results show Colorado school funding remains unfair and inadequate, especially for students from low income families, English language learners, children with disabilities, and children at risk of not meeting state standards,” explained Kathleen Gebhardt, Executive Director of Educate Colorado Now!. “School finance reform that is based on the actual costs of providing the essential teachers, support staff and programs that all students need is long overdue. It is time for our legislature to step up to insure that all our students have the opportunities they need to be successful.”

First issued in 2010, the National Report Card is built on the principle that predictable, stable and equitable state systems of school finance are an essential precondition for the delivery of a quality educational opportunity. Without this foundation, efforts to improve the nation’s schools will be less productive and unsustainable. To improve on the condition and performance of schools, states need to implement finance systems that provide sufficient funding that is fairly distributed to account for the needs of students, especially low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is coauthored by Dr. Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Esq., Executive Director of the Education Law Center (ELC); Dr. Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director; and Theresa Luhm, Esq., ELC Managing Director. Please visit for the complete report.


Kathy Gebhardt

Executive Director, Educate Colorado Now!


Molly A. Hunter

Education Justice, Director

973-624-1815, x 1


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