Giving every child the opportunity to achieve their dreams


  • Every child should have the opportunity to attend a school where he or she can thrive.
  • Colorado is a leading state in education, but we can do better to ensure every family has the freedom to pursue the education path that works best for their child.
  • Quality teachers make all the difference, and we can support reforms to make sure great teachers are rewarded and make sure more of our education dollars make it to the classroom.
  • School choice helps all children and especially those from low and middle-income families achieve success.
  • Although Colorado has 250 public charter schools and open enrollment, too many students do not have access to a school that meets their needs.
  • The level of education funding and teacher salaries in Colorado ranks in the middle of the 50 states. A ballot proposal to increase taxes by over $1 billion for education is unnecessary.
  • An education tax credit is a constitutional means of boosting education funding while enhancing parental choice in education. An education voucher program is also consistent with the US Constitution and the Colorado Constitution but may evoke a state legal challenge. A carefully crafted program would likely surmount a legal challenge thanks to the Trinity Lutheran v. Comer ruling in the US Supreme Court.
  • The majority of studies on preschool show that it has no positive long-term impact on academic achievement. Advocates of taxpayer-supported “universal preschool” rely on decades-old studies of small programs that have not been replicated. State preschool programs and the federal Head Start program show little to no positive long-term impacts.
  • One study by the Rand Corporation found full day kindergarten was negatively associated with math achievement and nonacademic school readiness skills. Other research into the short and long-term impact of attending full-day Kindergarten versus half-day Kindergarten shows mixed results.

Issue Background

Colorado students achieve better results on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) but are slightly less likely to graduate on time than the national average. Compared to other states, Colorado ranks in the middle on funding. The state has a slightly lower per-pupil expenditure and average teacher salary than the US average.

Colorado was the third state to authorize public charter schools in 1993. Charter schools are public schools that are managed independently of the district. Today there are 250 public charter schools around the state. Public charter schools serve a higher percentage of minority students and English Language Learners than do traditional public schools in the state.

On the Colorado School Performance Framework (SPF), charter schools outperform district schools. Colorado assigns all schools an SPF rating of “Performance,” “Improvement,” “Priority Improvement,” and “Turnaround”, with “Performance” being the highest rating and “Turnaround” being the lowest. In 2016-2017, 75% of Colorado’s charter schools were rated “Performance” on the SPF, compared to 68.1% of non-charter schools. Also of note, half of the top ten high schools in the state are charter schools according to the most recent US News and World Report ranking.

Unfortunately, there are still students who lack access to a traditional or public charter school that meets their needs. Even a great public school isn’t great for every student. Some students need a different environment, even when their neighborhood school is working well for other students.

On the most recent Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) exams, 54% of Colorado 4th graders did not meet the standard for English language arts while 43% of 8th graders missed the mark. On the math assessment, 66% of 4th graders did not meet math standards while 79% of 8th grades failed to do so. Many of these students would choose a different school if they could.

Other states have expanded school choice options beyond charter schools. Six states have Education Savings Accounts that empower families to have more control over the money that is spent for their child’s education. These state funds could be used for private school tuition, tutoring, or higher education costs. Sixteen states offer voucher programs for eligible students so that they can attend private schools. Eight states offer parents a tax credit or deduction for private school expenses. Eighteen states give individuals and/or businesses a tax credit for contributions to scholarship organizations which provide families scholarships to private schools. These programs provide families additional options beyond public schools.

More than half the states have adopted a private school choice program. Today, there are 63 private school choice programs around the country.  According to meta-analysis of school choice research by Greg D. Forster, PhD, school choice programs improve proficiency scores of participants, help students move from more segregated public schools to more diverse private schools, enhance students’ knowledge of civic values, and save taxpayers money. Although such programs have been upheld in state and federal courts, the education tax credit program will more easily pass court scrutiny because the funds dispersed to families are never actually held by the state.

A few years ago, Douglas County crafted a small, innovative voucher program. The program was initially blocked by Colorado court rulings regarding its constitutionality under the state’s prohibition of funding “sectarian” institutions. However, following the 2017 Trinity Lutheran v. Comer case in the Supreme Court, the High Court vacated the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling against the program. The Trinity Lutheran v. Comer ruling states that a faith-based organization cannot be denied participation in a government program for which it is otherwise eligible. This ruling opens to the door for a Colorado district or statewide voucher program in Colorado.

If lawmakers wish to avoid any legal delays, they should consider ESAs or a tax credit program instead because these programs more easily pass court scrutiny.

Governing Principle

Quality Education: Early in America’s history, our founders recognized the need to provide education to the public. An educated, informed citizenry is better able to preserve our freedoms and opportunities for future generations.


  • Continue to support innovation in education so that more students can access the educational environment that best meets their individual needs.
  • As Colorado continues to put more money into K-12 education, work with local school districts to make sure that those dollars are not going to wasteful bureaucratic programs, but are directed where they are most effective: teachers and instruction.
  • Support increased pay for teachers within existing budgets.
  • Support additional compensation for the best teachers, especially those in struggling and rural school districts.
  • Increase education options for families by adopting an education voucher program, education tax credit/deduction, or Education Savings Account program.

Key Statistics

Colorado education by the numbers:

  • Education funding in Colorado for 2018 is broken down as:
    • 7% federal ($740 million)
    • 44% state ($4.5 billion)
    • 49% local ($5 billion)
  • Total receipts for 2017 for education funding in Colorado was almost $11 billion. (Source: National Education Association)
  • 1,888 public schools serve 910,280 students.
    (Source: Colorado Department of Education)
  • Of these, 250 public charter schools serve 120,739 students, 13% of the total public school enrollment.
    (Source: Colorado League of Charter Schools)
  • 519 private schools serve 74,542 students.
    (Source: Private School Review)
  • 16 students per teacher are enrolled in public schools.
    (Source: National Education Association)
  • 79% of Colorado students graduate on time compared to 84% nationally. (Source)
  • 57% of Colorado students with disabilities and 69% of poor students graduate on time. (Source)
  • 56% of Colorado students enrolled in post-secondary education after graduation. (Source)
  • 65% of the 178 school districts are accredited or accredited with distinction. The remainder are on an improvement or turnaround plan (except the 3% for which there were insufficient data). (Source)
  • $51,808 was the average teacher salary in Colorado (2017) compared to the national average of $59,660. Colorado ranked 31st in teacher salaries that year. (Source: National Education Association)
  • $11,454 was the amount Colorado expends per student (2017) which ranked the state #34 in the nation for per-pupil amount. The national average is $12,998. (Source: National Education Association)
  • On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test:
    • In reading, 40% of Colorado 4th graders and 41% of Colorado 8th graders scored in the proficient or advanced range.
    • In math, 42% of Colorado 4th grade students and 38% of Colorado 8th grade students were proficient.
    • Colorado students score higher than the national average.
    • Nationally, 37% of 4th grade students and 36% of 8th grade students are proficient in reading.
    • On the NAEP math exam, 40% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders scored in the proficient or advanced range.
  • On the most recent state tests (2017), the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) exams:
    • 44% of Colorado 4th graders met or exceeded the standard for English language arts while 43% of 8th graders did likewise.
    • On the math assessment, 34% of 4th graders met or exceeded math standards while 21% of 8th grades did so.


Colorado Department of Education



Independence Institute

National Assessment of Educational Progress

National Center for Education Statistics

National Education Association Rankings and Estimates Report