Volume 3 Issue 2

Who Says Money Doesn't Count in Public Education?

By Dr. Paula Noonan

     Colorado’s public K–12 education system went broke in 2008–2009. The brokenness was so bad that the state legislature created the “negative factor,” the difference between the state dollars per student schools receive and the dollars they should receive. 
     The negative factor reached a $1278/student deficit in 2012–13. It’s now down to $1000/student. Children in public schools since 2009 have lost out on $6006 per student or $180,180 for a classroom of 30 kids. During the same time period, prominent education foundations poured money into the state. 
     The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the star money pusher at $121,084,495 since 2010. The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), the education foundation for the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), scored $22,220,340 from Gates. Denver Public
Schools (DPS) took in $25,532,007, with an additional $759,938 sent to two charters: Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) and STRIVE Prep. 
     Charter schools received a huge boost from the Gates’ donation to Charter Fund, Inc. doing business as Charter School Growth Fund at $33,716,724. The Fund invested in DPS’s DSST, STRIVE Prep, and Rocky Mountain Prep charters. Education reformer Stand for Children took in $12,110,821. The Gates Foundation pitched $400,000 to Colorado Succeeds run by Scott Laband, the former staffer of State Senator Michael Johnston who sponsored SB10-191, the Great Teachers and Leaders Act.
     The money creates winners and losers. Clear winners are education reformers such as CEI, Stand for Children, and Johnston and Laband who managed to get a $300,000 fiscal note price tag on SB10-191 when the teacher evaluation program costs districts millions of dollars.
     Testers also won. They get the profits from delivering the student assessments used for teacher evaluation. Employees at CEI won. CEI even paid several of its staffers as they worked for CDE on implementing SB10-191. That creative accounting kept their salaries off CDE’s books. 
     Losers include transparency aficionados who like to know how money affecting state policy is spent. CEI’s mission is to support CDE which supports the whole state. A review of CEI’s programs shows great concern with college readiness, and not much, if any, concern for career readiness. 
     It’s impossible to tell how broadly, fairly, and without political taint CEI distributes its grants to its various programs. CEI will be under scrutiny if it’s the funder of alternative assessment pilots allowed by HB15-1323, the revised assessment bill.
     CEI’s latest Annual Report, published in 2013, only lists gross assets and liabilities. 
Losers also include many neighborhood schools across the state, particularly in Denver, when compared to the well-endowed DSST and STRIVE Prep. While most schools have lost funding since 2009, these two charters are swimming in it. 
     Green Valley Elementary School, a neighborhood school in the 80249 zip code, scored 56.95 on reading in 2014. DSST Green Valley middle and high schools, also in 80249, scored 71.4 and 72.95. The math gap is less: 56.62 at GV Elementary, 63.11 at DSST GV Middle, and 61.71 at DSST GV High School.
     All that money bought 14.45+ on reading scores and about 5.5+ on math. Anyone want to fund a Colorado Neighborhood School Growth Fund?

Reprinted courtesy of The Colorado Statesman, the state’s premier political news outlet.

Editor’s note: Jeffco Board member Lesley Dahlkemper is employed by The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) referenced in this article. She is the Vice President, Strategic Engagement and Communication.