EducationHot Sheet

How does Colorado rank on per-student school spending?

Author: Mark Harden - May 21, 2018 - Updated: May 21, 2018

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Kristen Rose, a 7th grade English teacher at West Early College in Denver, takes part in a rally outside the State Capitol April 16 in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

With education funding and teacher pay much in the news lately, the U.S. Census Bureau is out with a timely set of tables showing that Colorado ranks in the lower third among the states in public-school spending per pupil.

The tables, released Monday, show Colorado coming in at No. 39 nationally among the 50 states and the District of Columbia fin fiscal-year 2016, with per-pupil spending in public elementary and high schools averaging $9,575.

That’s well behind the national per-pupil spending average of $11,762.

Only Alabama, South Dakota, Texas, Nevada, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arizona, Idaho and Utah finish behind Colorado in per-pupil school expenditures; Utah takes last place with average spending of $6,953, the Census Bureau reports.

At the other extreme, New York state tops the list with spending averaging $22,366, followed by D.C. ($19,159), Connecticut ($18,958), New Jersey ($18,402) and Vermont ($17,873).

Of Colorado’s $9,575 in per-student spending, $5,423 is for instruction (No. 41 among the states), of which $3,759 is for instructional salaries (No. 38) and $1,069 is for benefits (No. 44).

Colorado per-pupil spending also includes $149 for general administration (No. 39 among the states) and $695 for school administration (No. 18).

Elsewhere in the Census Bureau data dump, it’s reported that Colorado lags the national average in the share of public school revenue that comes from the state (43.4 percent versus the national norm of 47.4 percent). Colorado also trails in the share that comes from federal sources (7.1 percent versus 8.1 percent nationally).

That means a larger-than-average share of Colorado school revenue comes from local sources, including property tax: 49.5 percent versus the national average of 44.5 percent.

Mark Harden

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.


One comment

  • Peter

    May 22, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Mark,
    The amount Colorado pays for per-pupil funding raises many questions about why so many urban schools have such high dropout rates. Some time ago I helped launch a DPS charter school for students who had dropped out of school and we were simply overwhelmed by the demand for our programs.

    Given the quality of your work, I have to accept that the numbers you provide are correct, but I have heard that the $9,575 number does not take into account funding sources like foundation grants, federal funding, marijuana money, tariffs on new oil wells, etc. Someone I respect said that the real number we spend is likely closer to $12K when everything is taken into account. This may or may not be true, but having a clear picture of the balance sheet is the first step in making positive changes. This is true, not only for PPOR, but for PERA.

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