Opinion

NOONAN: A+ Colorado slams public schools — but sidesteps issue of school finance

Author: Paula Noonan - January 2, 2018 - Updated: January 1, 2018

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

A+ Colorado doesn’t have much good news to report on Colorado public schools, citing its updated research that shows how few of the state’s students enter the 300 most competitive colleges and universities in the country.

Many high schools have no graduating seniors who will attend competitive higher ed institutions. The vast majority have fewer than 5 percent of students moving on to the University of Colorados of the country.

Only one school district, Boulder Valley, has three high schools that put more than 15 percent of their kids into these prestigious institutions.  Peak to Peak Charter, with 916 students, placed 24 percent, Fairview High placed 21 percent, and Boulder High placed 16 percent.  Is Boulder Valley School District’s success mysterious?

Boulder Valley Schools educate the children of University of Colorado employees and the offspring of the parents of many high tech firms in the area.  To add to the formula, Boulder Valley students receive some of the highest per-student dollars of any state district.  Peak to Peak Charter’s k-12 plugs in $12,226 per student, according to its budget.  Per-student funding across the Boulder Valley system for the 2017-2018 school year is $11,780.

In contrast, Jefferson County schools’ 2017-2018 budget puts in roughly $8112 per student for 86,000 children with one high school at 10 percent of students in top schools. Douglas County schools have a per student budget of $8433 with one school at 12 percent. Cherry Creek schools use $9963 per student with one school at 18 percent.  The remainder of Cherry Creek high schools vary from 6 percent to 2 percent at top colleges.

These dollars are not entirely apple-to-apple comparisons due to different grants and federal funds, but they provide a general frame of reference of per-student allocations by these metro districts. Rural districts, many of which haven’t placed students in competitive colleges or universities at all, may have more money per student, but those dollars are stretched across many more resource needs.

Denver public schools present a special analytical challenge since so many of its schools are now charters. Six Denver high schools have from 10 to 14 percent of their students accepted by competitive institutions.  DSST Stapleton and East High are tied at 14 percent, and DSST Green Valley Ranch has 12 percent.  DSST Stapleton’s charter school per-student allocation is $14,133 and DSST Green Valley Ranch has $15,678 per student.  At least that’s what appears from their budget documents.

For children eligible for free or reduced lunch, Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder has the highest top-college enrollment at 22 percent and DSST Green Valley Ranch is second at 12 percent placement.

A+ Colorado has many recommendations for public education to improve outcomes.  But it doesn’t touch the hot topic of public school funding.  DSST Green Valley Ranch is a relatively new high school with students focused on science and technology.  Along with its sister schools, DSST receives millions in foundation dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, wealthy Wall Streeters, and John Malone’s philanthropy.

That extra funding builds per-student allocation to an extra $7566 per student above Jeffco’s funding.  That difference describes the real “negative factor” built into Colorado’s public education school finance bill.

A+ Colorado, which proclaims to be an education-reform organization, should talk straight to the citizens of Colorado.  If A+ is sincere in its argument, it should advocate for equalized funding between traditional public schools and those charters benefitting from millions of extra dollars from philanthropy.  And it should loudly declare that the state is failing many of its students because it’s too cheap to do better.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.