Local Breakdown of Colorado K-12 Spending Further Highlights Need for Reform

Since I got so long-winded yesterday (and because I know you’re tired of me hammering on the school funding issue once again), today’s post is going to be a short one. I’ve recently pointed out that the statewide K-12 financial trends are not quite as dire as some have proclaimed. But what about at the local level?

The Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci has been doing his homework. Using the latest Census Bureau data, he has assembled a district-by-district comparison of Colorado K-12 spending between 2004-05 and 2009-10. It’s worth a look to get a localized sense of funding effects. On a per-student basis, all but 10 of the state’s 178 school districts spent more in 2010 than in 2005.

If you factor in the 5-year Colorado inflation rate of 11.64 percent to compare real dollar values, three-quarters of districts (134) still increased spending. Among the 25 largest districts, Antonucci’s analysis shows Falcon 49, Fountain-Fort Carson and Adams 12 all grew per-pupil expenditures by more than double the inflation rate.

Another interesting facet of Antonucci’s report is a comparison of 5-year changes in student enrollment versus 5-year changes in teacher employment. Out of 178 districts, 110 effectively cut their student-teacher ratio between 2004-05 and 2009-10, including Jefferson County, Denver, and St. Vrain–which all are asking voters to raise local taxes on ballot elections this year.

Budget times aren’t as plush as they once were, in many cases worse than two years ago when the Census Bureau last measured K-12 finances. With extra federal funds drying up and local property values not yet recovering from the downturn, the time is ripe for fundamental changes toward truly student-centered funding in Colorado.