District 51 shines in school funding report

Colorado was 40th in the nation in how much it has spent on education, according to the U.S. Census Bureau annual report on recent education spending.

The report is a snapshot of all 14,643 school districts in the nation based on revenue, expenditures and enrollment during the 2008–09 school year.

It shows that Colorado spent about $2,000 less than the national average of $10,500 per pupil, was ranked dead last in the amount of federal aid it gets, was 38th in teacher pay and came in 49th in the nation in the benefits it offers to all school workers.

On its face, the report ranked Mesa County Valley School District 51 high statewide and nationally, 12 and 332, respectively. The district is the largest on the Western Slope but is among the smallest compared with other large districts of 20,000 students or more.

“Where you look at how much we get to spend per student as it compares to other districts our size or other districts in the nation ... we’re one of the 11 districts in the state that’s funded at 95 percent of the state average,” district spokesman Jeff Kirtland said.

Some of the more interesting findings from the report show that the district has the same state ranking — 12th — in areas such as total revenue, teacher pay, and wages and benefits for all other employees.

The data also show that the district devoted more on instruction than services, 55 percent compared to 31.6 percent.

The annual report wasn’t designed to criticize where districts get their money or how they spend it, but to see how it’s spread across all schools in a state, said Lisa Blumerman, chief of the Census Bureau governments division.

“Most children in the United States rely on public schools for their education, so it’s important for people to understand how available resources are being spent,” she said.

Nationwide, for example, about 65.2 percent of education revenue came from property taxes in 2008-09. In Mesa County, only about 36 percent came from that tax. Statewide, property taxes account for about 40 percent of school spending.

About 50 percent of the district’s revenue came from the state and 8 percent from the federal government.

District 51 ranked eighth statewide in Title I funding for low-income students and 10th in the free- and reduced-lunch program money it gets, although Colorado came in 51st among the states and the District of Columbia in federal aid.

“So we’ve got a lot of poor kids, a lot of hungry kids, but we get very little in terms of federal help,” Kirtland said. “That’s interesting.”


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