Different sides view per pupil funding differently

11:55 PM, Nov 1, 2012   |    comments
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"We're a wealthy state," said Kathleen Gebhardt, founder of Children's Voices, a non-profit law firm which advocates for education. "We're in the top 10 for wealth and in the bottom for funding our students."

Gebhardt is an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit of Lobato vs. the State of Colorado. The lawsuit, which has been initially upheld in district court, states that school funding is not equal across the state of Colorado and that is a violation of the state constitution. The case is currently under appeal.

According to the Colorado Department of Education and Gebhardt, schools receive an average of $6,474 per pupil in tax dollars.

"And, that puts us well into the bottom quadrant of all other states," Gebhardt said. "That worries me greatly about Colorado."

Gebhardt says depending spending fluctuations of other states, Colorado consistently ranks between 45th and 50th in terms of per pupil funding nationwide, about $2,000 per pupil lower than the national average.

"So, what that translates into is we're not able to provide the programs and services that we know work for kids," Gebhardt said.

But, there are others who say those numbers reported by the state are not entirely accurate.

"The main one is that per pupil revenue," said Ben DeGrow, senior education policy analyst with the Independence Institute. "If you look at just that piece, you can cite those figures, but to do that is ignoring all tax dollars coming into schools."

The Independence Institute is a conservative think-tank located in Denver.

"Colorado actually ranks closer to the middle than to the bottom," DeGrow said. "You'll see Colorado ranked even as high as 29th."

DeGrow says the real per pupil funding total is much higher than $6,474.

"Federal dollars, it comes from additional local tax dollars and even other state programs that fund education," DeGrow said. "When you look at it, it's actually closer to $10,000 per student."

Gebhardt disagrees with that number.

"Oh, $10,000-a-year would be unimaginable for almost anybody in Colorado," Gebhardt said. "It would be a nice problem to have, but it's not one we currently have."

Out of the money allocated per pupil, about 80 percent is spent on salaries, paying for teachers and other staff members. The rest is spent on materials and facilities, according to Gebhardt.

But, DeGrow says schools are paying too much into the state retirement fund and for district bureaucracies such as administrators. He says hiring practices also don't reflect efficient spending.

"We've been hiring more employees for K-12 education than there's been growth in students," DeGrow said.

On Election Day, voters in 31 school districts around the state will decide whether to raise property taxes to pump an additional $1 billion into the school system in the form of bond issues for buildings or mill levy overrides for operating budgets.

Like any good political debate, much of the issue will be addressed at the polls.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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