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Report: Employee benefit costs lead to 28% increase in spending per Colorado student

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(The Center Square) – The amount of money spent per student in Colorado, when adjusted for inflation, grew 28% during the last 18 years and was driven by the cost of employee benefits, according to a report from a libertarian research group.

A key driver for the increase was a 105.5% rise in the cost of employee benefits, according to the Reason Foundation’s report, “Public Education at a Crossroads: A Comprehensive Look at K-12 Resources and Outcomes for All 50 States.” The report identified five key trends facing public education, including revenue per student, salaries, staffing versus enrollment, employee benefits and test scores.

Revenue per Colorado student increased from $11,322 in 2002 to $14,496 in 2022, the 60-page report said. Reason ranked Colorado 17th, up from 26th in 2002.

“Nationwide, inflation-adjusted K-12 revenues grew by $3,213 per student or 25% between 2002 and 2020,” the report stated. “During this time, nearly every state increased education funding with per student revenues increasing by at least 10% in 41 states and growth exceeding 50% in New York, New Hampshire, Illinois, North Dakota and Washington.”

The report found the cost of employee benefits per Colorado student increased from $1,213 in 2002 to $2,493 in 2022. The state ranked 34th in the cost of employee benefits per student in 2002 and jumped to 18th in 2022.

“Overall, inflation-adjusted spending on employee benefits increased in all 50 states between 2002 and 2020, growing by $1,499 per student or 78.6% nationwide,” the report stated. Benefits included pensions, social security, health insurance, life insurance, worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation and tuition reimbursement.

The average inflation-adjusted teacher salary in Colorado declined 1.7% during the last 18 years, from $58,712 to $57,706. Colorado was ranked 28th in teacher salary as half the states showed a decline in the category.

Education funding throughout the U.S. reached historic levels before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the report stated. It found growth in public school staffing exceeded growth in student enrollment and there isn’t a “consistent relationship” between increased funding and outcomes. According to Reason, public education is at a crossroads as federal pandemic funding winds down.

“Pre-pandemic trends provide policy makers with a critical anchor for navigating post-pandemic decisions,” according to the report.

The number of non-teacher positions grew 47% in Colorado during the period while enrollment grew 23%. Staffing growth exceeded student growth in 39 states.

The report used the National Assessment of Education Progress in evaluating test scores. Colorado’s reading score for fourth graders increased by two points from 2003 to 2019, but fell from 14th to 32nd in the nation. Fourth-grade math scores increased six points and increased from 43rd to 23rd in the rankings.

Colorado’s eighth graders had no growth in reading scores and increased three points in math. The eighth graders fell from being ranked 27th in reading to 31st and increased in math from 33rd to 30th.

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