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Colorado Ranks 21st in Per-Pupil Spending (and Other New Numbers from the NEA)

The month of March is getting ready to go out. Not exactly sure it’s like a lamb. But there is one report released this month that some in Colorado’s education-industrial complex would just as soon see put out to pasture.

The National Education Association has released its annual “Rankings and Estimates” publication, which compares the states on a wide range of statistics directly or indirectly linked to education. A testament to the power of self-interest and private action, the NEA’s numbers are much fresher than those produced by the slow release of government agencies like the U.S. Department of Education or the U.S. Census Bureau.

A sampling of this year’s K-12 statistical fare reads like a mind-blowing episode of Myth Busters:

  1. In 2011-12, Colorado’s “current expenditures per pupil” ranked us 22nd nationally at $10,672, based on the number of students who show up in October… (Table H-9, pg 54)
  2. …which puts us at $166 below the national average… (H-9)
  3. …but virtually tied with New Mexico ($10,702) and ahead of other neighboring states like Kansas ($9,518), Nebraska ($9,402), Oklahoma ($7,768), and Utah ($6,973) (H-9).
  4. Estimates for 2012-13 place Colorado at 21st in the nation ($10,884), just 0.5 percent below the national average (Table H-11, pg 55).
  5. When it comes to dollars spent per resident on K-12 capital construction, the most recent numbers place Colorado at 24th, or $162 per capita; the national average is $170 (Table H-19, pg 58).
  6. If you want to count spending as a share of personal income, which implies the more you earn the more you must spend, then you have to go back in 2010-11, when Colorado ranked 25th right at the national average… not 49th!!! (Table H-13, pg 56).
  7. As far as revenues collected in 2011-12, Colorado comes in either at $10,191 or $10,988 per student — depending on whether you use the “fall count” or “average daily attendance’ (Tables F-1 and F-3, pg 39).
  8. Colorado ranks 18th in the percentage of revenues collected from local governments, at 48.1 percent (Table F-8, pg 41).
  9. The state’s per capita state and local tax revenue ($4,259) — including everything, not just dollars for education — again puts Colorado just a hair below the national average in 2010-11: Rank 20th (Table E-3, pg 32).
  10. The $49,844 average salary of Colorado public school teachers, excluding benefits, puts the state at 30th for 2012-13 (Table C-11, pg 19)…
  11. But only nine states had a worse 10-year growth in teacher salaries than Colorado, which failed to keep pace with inflation (Tables C-20 and C-21, pg 22).
  12. Colorado experienced the 5th-highest increase in student enrollment from 2011-12 to 2012-13 (Table B-3, pg 11)…
  13. However, of Colorado’s 868,619 students who showed up to public schools in the fall of 2012, only 92.7 percent of them were in attendance on an average school day (Tables B-2 and B-5, pgs 11-12).

I certainly could go on, and I certainly recommend you take a closer look at the report yourself. But these facts I’ve cited give a pretty good overview of some key facts. And hopefully they raise some valuable questions to ask.

March may or may not be going out like a lamb, but when it comes to key statistics of how much money is being spent in Colorado K-12 education, here’s my advice: Don’t be led around like a herd of sheep. (That whole 49th in funding canard should be laughed right out.) I’m glad to help you try to find the information for yourselves.