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Study: Colorado gets F in school funding

A national study released Tuesday gives Colorado an “F” in education spending, finding the state has the fiscal capacity to do far more to fund its K-12 schools.

Colorado also earned a “D” in distribution of education dollars, a measure which looks at whether states give more to schools based on concentrations of poverty.

The report, titled “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card,” is based on financial data from 2005 to 2007 – or before the current recession. There is an addendum based on 2008 data recently released through the U.S. Census.

Still, members of Children’s Voices, the group behind the pending Lobato v. State lawsuit, said the report’s findings are consistent with their claims.

“This report shows that Colorado falls short in providing sufficient and fair education funding to assure that Colorado’s public school children receive a constitutionally adequate education,” said Kathy Gebhardt, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Lobato suit and executive director of Children’s Voices.

The Lobato case started in 2005 when a large group of parents from eight school districts across the state and 14 school districts in the San Luis Valley sued the state, claiming that Colorado’s school finance system violates the state constitution’s requirement for a “thorough and uniform” public education system.

A Denver District Court judge ruled against the plaintiffs in 2006 but, a year ago, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned that decision and sent the case back to the lower court for trial. The number of districts involved as plaintiffs has now grown to 21.

Tuesday’s study was prepared by the Education Law Center, based in New Jersey, with the help of Bruce Baker of Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. It ranks all 50 states on four different measures, including whether they send more resources to students in poverty.

The study’s authors believe “funding should increase relative to the level of concentrated student poverty.” That’s the “funding distribution” measure on which Colorado received a “D” – 18 other states also received a “D” or “F” on that measure.

Colorado’s “F” came on the “effort” measure considering state spending relative to state fiscal capacity, or the ratio of state spending on education to per-capita gross domestic product. According to the report:

To focus on the areas over which states exert the most control, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Nevada, North Dakota, and Virginia receive Ds or Fs on both State Effort and Funding Distribution. So not only do these states dedicate a low proportion of their fiscal capacity towards their education system, they also have allocated that money in a way that does not systematically ensure that districts with higher poverty levels get more funding.

The other two measures considered in the study were funding level, which ranked states from highest to lowest per-pupil funding with figures adjusted to account for interstate differences, and coverage, which looked at the proportion of school-aged children attending public schools as well as the income disparity between families using private versus public schools.

Colorado ranked 35th on funding level and 12th on coverage.

Six states did “relatively well” on all four measures, the study found: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and Wyoming. And four states received “below-average” ratings on each indicator: Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri and North Carolina.

Read the full release from Children’s Voices about the funding study. And read a national perspective on the study from Education Week.

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