Public education in Colorado

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K-12 Education in Colorado
State Superintendent: Robert Hammond
Number of students: 854,265[1]
Number of teachers: 48,078
Teacher/pupil ratio: 1:17.8
Number of school districts: 259
Number of schools: 1,813
Graduation rate: 75%[2]
Per-pupil spending: $8,724[3]
See also
Public education in Colorado
Colorado Department of Education
Colorado school districts
List of school districts in Colorado
The Colorado public school system (prekindergarten-grade 12) operates within districts governed by locally elected school boards members and superintendents.

The Colorado state constitution requires that the state legislature establish and maintain "a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty­one years, may be educated gratuitously."[4]

School revenues, expenditures and budget

See also: Colorado state budget
Colorado's education costs are 43% of the state budget

The total state general fund for FY 2008-2009 is $7.5 billion. Education accounts for $3,218,524,359, 43%, of the total general fund. According to the FY 2008-2009, education received an increase of $154.3 million.[5] Colorado is facing a $604 million budget gap for FY 2009 and according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Colorado could face a smaller deficit of $386 million for FY 2010.[6]

The cost per pupil is $9,079, ranking 35th in the nation according the Census Bureau 2007-2008 report.[7]

Personnel salaries

In the 2006-2007 school year Colorado had an average annual teacher salary of $47,493 and an average pupil-teacher ratio of 16.8.[8] The 2007 average salary is a $8,309 increase as compared to the 1999-2000 school year average annual teacher salary.[9] Below is a chart that details the state's average annual teacher salary from the 2000 to 2007 school years. Additionally, the chart identifies the average pupil/teacher ratio throughout those years.

School year Average annual teacher salary Average pupil/teacher ratio
2000 $39,184[9] 17.3[9]
2001 $40,659[10] 16.8[10]
2002 $42,680[11] 16.6[11]
2003 $43,330[12] 16.8[12]
2004 $43,965[13] 16.9[13]
2005 $44,456[14] 17.0[14]
2006 $45,831[15] 16.9[15]
2007 $47,493[8] 16.8[8]

Role of unions

The main unions related to the Colorado school system are Colorado Education Association (CEA), an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), and Colorado Federation of Teachers. CEA is the largest education association in the state. For the 2003 tax period CEA had: $10.5 million in total revenue, $10.1 million in total expenses and $7.9 million in total assets.[16] Colorado Federation of Teachers had: $213,403 in total revenue, $221,663 in total expenses and $157,369 in total assets.[17]

List of local Colorado school unions:[18]

Role of school boards

The State Board of Education serves as the general planning and coordinating body for public education. The board consists of seven elected officials. Board members serve a term of six-years without pay. A chairman and vice-chairman are selected every other year from the board that is serving. The Commissioner of Education, more commonly known as the superintendent, is a non-voting secretary of the board.[19]

The duties of the school board include: appointing the Commissioner of Education, employing personnel of the Department of Education, approving the budget, setting the rules and regulations for education, accrediting public school districts, distributing federal and state funds to school districts and schools, appointing advisory committees, regulating licensing, exercising judicial authority over charter schools and submitting educational recommendation to the General Assembly and the Colorado Governor.[20]

Taxpayer-funded lobbying

See also: Colorado government sector lobbying

The main education government sector lobbying organization is the Colorado Association of School Boards. Below is a list of major Colorado education government sector lobbying organizations:


As of 2009 Colorado did not have a statewide spending database online, but is scheduled to have a database by January 2010.[21] On June 4, 2009, Governor Ritter signed Colorado House Bill 1288, the "Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act," into law. HB 1288 mandates the creation of an online spending database by no later than January, 2010.[21]


A 2009 study, Leaders and Laggards, conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for a Competitive Workplace, Frederick M. Hess of the conservative American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and the Center for American Progress, gave Colorado: "B" in academic achievement; "D" in truth in advertising about student proficiency; "D" in rigor of standards; "B" in post-secondary and workforce readiness; "B" in for its teacher workforce policies; "C" in data quality.[22]

Academic performance

The chart below details the percentage of students that scored either proficient or advanced in reading, writing and mathematics on the state assessment exam (CSAP) for grades 3-10. Specifically the 2006-2007 through the 2008-2009 school years are outlined. According to the reports, students scored higher in all subject areas in the 2008-2009 school year.[23] In total 1,585,044 CSAP exams were administered in 2009, an increase of 24,235 exams as compared to 2008.[24]

Year Reading (%) Writing (%) Mathematics (%)
2006-2007 67 54 53
2007-2008 68 53 53
2008-2009 68 55 54

State Budget Solutions’ Education Study: “Throwing Money At Education Isn’t Working”

State Budget Solutions’ examined national trends in education from 2009-2011, including state-by-state analysis of education spending, graduation rates, and average ACT scores. The study shows that states that spend the most do not have the highest average ACT test scores, nor do they have the highest average graduation rates. A summary of the study is available here. Download the full report here: Throwing Money At Education Isn’t Working.

See National Chart to compare data from all 50 states.

State Spending on Education vs. Academic Performance 2012

State 2011 Total Spending[25] 2011 Education Spending[26] 2011 Percent Education Spending 2012 Total Spending[27] 2012 Education Spending[28] 2012 Percent Education Spending 2010 Avg. ACT score[29] 2011 Avg. ACT score[30] 2012 Avg. ACT score[31] 2010 Graduation Rate[32] 2011 Graduation Rate[33]
Colorado $46.1 billion $12.2 billion 26.4% $46.1 billion $12.9 billion 27.9% 20.6 20.7 20.6 76.6% 75.4%

School choice

School districts in the state of Colorado are controlled locally, therefore local school districts have more flexibility in regards to school choice. Some districts may differ from others.[34] School choice options include:

  • Charter schools: in the 2007-2008 the state of Colorado had approximately 151 public charter schools with about 53,000 students enrolled.[35][36]
  • Public school open enrollment: the state of Colorado has two open enrollment policies: inter-district and intra-district. In other words, students are permitted to enroll in any school within their neighborhood school district or in any alternative district in the state.[35]
  • Online learning: the state of Colorado offers a state-led program. According to the state, the state-led program has a total of 18 online programs and approximately 10,500 students enrolled.[35]

External links

Additional reading


  1. National Center for Education Statistics, "Table 2. Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011–12," accessed March 18, 2014
  2. ED Data Express, "State Tables Report," accessed March 17, 2014 The site includes this disclaimer: "States converted to an adjusted cohort graduation rate [starting in the 2010-2011 school year], which may or may not be the same as the calculation they used in prior years. Due to the potential differences, caution should be used when comparing graduation rates across states."
  3. United States Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011," accessed March 18, 2014
  4. State of Colorado Constitution,"Article IX, Section 2," accessed October 13, 2009
  5. State of Colorado,"Governor Bill Ritter’s FY 08-09 Budget Request Summary," accessed October 13, 2009
  6. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,"State budget troubles worsen," March 13,2009
  7. Maine Watchdog, Education Spending Per Child, July 6, 2010
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Colorado Department of Education,"Pupil membership and classroom teacher data," accessed October 13, 2009
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Colorado Department of Education,"Pupil membership and classroom teacher data," accessed October 13, 2009
  10. 10.0 10.1 Colorado Department of Education,"Pupil membership and classroom teacher data," accessed October 13, 2009
  11. 11.0 11.1 Colorado Department of Education,"Pupil membership and classroom teacher data," accessed October 13, 2009
  12. 12.0 12.1 Colorado Department of Education,"Pupil membership and classroom teacher data," accessed October 13, 2009
  13. 13.0 13.1 Colorado Department of Education,"Pupil membership and classroom teacher data," accessed October 13, 2009
  14. 14.0 14.1 Colorado Department of Education,"Pupil membership and classroom teacher data," accessed October 13, 2009
  15. 15.0 15.1 Colorado Department of Education,"Pupil membership and classroom teacher data," accessed October 13, 2009
  16. Center for Union Facts,"Colorado Education Association," accessed October 1, 2009
  17. Center for Union Facts,"Colorado Federation of Teachers," accessed October 1, 2009
  18. Center for Union Facts,"Colorado teachers unions," accessed October 1, 2009
  19. Colorado Department of Education,"State Board of Education Background," accessed October 2, 2009
  20. Colorado Department of Education,"State Board of Education Authority, Powers, and Duties," accessed October 2, 2009
  21. 21.0 21.1 State of Colorado,"HOUSE BILL 09-1288 - Colorado Transparency Act," accessed October 13, 2009
  22. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute,"Colorado Education Report Card," accessed November 16, 2009
  23. The Colorado Department of Education,"Colorado State Achievement Summaries," accessed October 13, 2009
  24. Colorado Department of Education,"2009 CSAP Summary of Status Results," accessed October 13, 2009
  25. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Total Spending" Aug. 4, 2012
  26. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Education Spending"Aug. 4, 2012
  27. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Total Spending" Aug. 4, 2012
  28. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Education Spending"Aug. 4, 2012
  29. 2010 ACT National and State Scores "Average Scores by State"
  30. [ 2011 ACT National and State Scores " Average Scores by State"]
  31. [ 2011 ACT National and State Scores " Average Scores by State"]
  32. National Center for Education Statistics
  33. National Center for Education Statistics
  34. Colorado Department of Education,"Other School Options in Colorado," accessed October 13, 2009
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 The Heritage Foundation,"School Choice in Colorado," accessed October 13, 2009
  36. Colorado Department of Education,"Colorado Charter Schools," accessed October 13, 2009