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Numbers Tell Part of the Tale: Drilling into Census Bureau’s Colorado K-12 Data

Mike Antonucci is doing yeoman’s work at the Education Intelligence Agency, going state by state to update K-12 student, employee, and spending data from the U.S. Census Bureau. I’ve called on his helpful charts that show the relationship of pupil enrollment to teacher hiring, and how states (and even districts) are doing financially compared to five years earlier.

Friday it was Colorado’s turn in the spotlight. Antonucci came at the information from an interesting angle, showing that Denver Public Schools’ ProComp “performance pay” system has not deterred new hiring. He makes a few other valuable observations. But leave it to little old Eddie here to uncover a few more interesting tidbits from the data for you all.

First of all, the Census Bureau says the state’s per-pupil funding grew by 8.3 percent from 2006 to 2011 — just short of keeping pace with inflation. Yet as Antonucci explains in a newer post, school districts typically are not set up to absorb the occasional recessionary cuts like they are the frequent increases that outstrip the “marginal costs”:

School systems do not compute costs and then seek revenue to cover those costs. They match spending to available revenue, “computed” through the political process.

Second, the per-pupil impacts are all over the place for individual Colorado districts. Just among the largest 50, you have some districts that experienced healthy 5-year funding gains (all figures calculated per student):

  1. Englewood (26%)
  2. Fountain-Ft. Carson (21%)
  3. Falcon 49 (19.9%)
  4. Montezuma-Cortez (19.8%)
  5. Fort Lupton (19.6%)

And it’s noteworthy also to see the district budgets hardest hit:

  1. Steamboat Springs (-9.8%)
  2. Adams 14 (-5.1%)
  3. Douglas County (-3.1%)
  4. Montrose County (-2.7%)
  5. Poudre (-1.8%)

Altogether, teacher hiring in about 70 percent of the top 50 districts did not keep up with student enrollment. All told there are just over 17 students enrolled for each Colorado teacher. But so much of the story is left untold by the numbers. Is having more teachers better? Not necessarily. Keep an eye on policies as they change to focus more on retaining and rewarding teachers based on effectiveness.

Finally, there are the discrepancies on how much Colorado spent per student in 2010-11:

Wait, why don’t all the numbers agree? I’m just stuck here scratching my head.

Still, the data tell part of the story. Given the way Antonucci introduced his Friday post, nothing against Denver Public Schools. Yet in a few years, it will be even more telling to see how stronger compensation reforms in Douglas County, Harrison, and Eagle County affect hiring in those places, too.