Education Policy in Colorado: An Overview


The Colorado education policy aims to provide quality, equitable education across the state while promoting innovation and accountability. Key players like the Colorado State Board of Education and Department of Education shape standards, funding, assessments, and initiatives to serve over 900,000 K-12 students. Recent trends involve expanding school choice, supporting early childhood and STEM education, and addressing inequities through legislation.


  • The State Board of Education oversees standards and accountability measures.
  • Funding and equity are ongoing concerns addressed through recent reforms.
  • Expanding school choice in each school district and charter schools increases options.

Overview of the Colorado State Board of Education

The Colorado State Board of Education (SBE) is an elected body tasked with general supervision of the state education system. This includes establishing standards for districts and schools, accrediting districts, approving charter applications, and monitoring student achievement. Recently, the SBE adopted updates to the Colorado Academic Standards, which outline expectations for learning in all subjects and grade levels state-wide.

These rigorous standards aim to prepare graduates for college and careers. The SBE also manages accountability through the Colorado Education Accountability Act. This law requires schools and districts to submit performance reports focused on achievement indicators like test scores and graduation rates. These inform action and improvement plans.

Equity and Funding in Colorado Schools

Equity in education aims to provide every student in each school district with the support needed to succeed. In Colorado, substantial funding gaps and outcome disparities persist between wealthy and poor districts. Recent legislation in the Colorado Education Equity Act works to identify and remedy inequities in marginalized communities through additional funding and support.

On the whole, Colorado ranks near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending. Amendment 23 was passed to increase funds, but The Great Recession forced major cuts. Today’s system relies heavily on local property taxes, creating inherent inequalities. Student needs and cost of living influence distributions, but further modifications are necessary to ensure adequate, equitable funding state-wide.

School Choice and Charter Schools

School choice allows families to select public school alternatives for their children. Options in Colorado include open enrollment between districts, charter schools, online schools, and private schools with vouchers or tax credits.

Charter schools are independently run public schools with flexibility around curriculum and programs. Growth has been explosive, with 260 schools now serving over 125,000 students. They are authorized by districts or the Charter School Institute (CSI). While increasing choice, charters are controversial for mixed performance and segregation concerns.

Strict accountability aims to increase quality, but the survival of the fittest mentalities persists. Overall, school choice diversifies options but can compromise equity and oversight.

Teacher Certification and Education Reform

Colorado has alternative pathways to teacher certification. Traditional programs award degrees from accredited colleges of education. Alternative licenses allow those with bachelor’s degrees to teach while completing requirements. Reform initiatives like Senate Bill 10-191 tie evaluations, tenure, and dismissals to effectiveness rather than seniority.

Teachers must also demonstrate content knowledge through exams. The reform aimed to increase teacher quality and accountability but added burdens on educators. Workforce shortages, low pay, and lack of diversity remain issues. Recent legislation funds programs supporting mental health, safety training, career development, and higher pay to improve retention.

Accountability and Department Initiatives

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) oversees the implementation of education laws and board policies. A main function involves collating data and publishing school district performance reports. These rates of academic achievement, growth, postsecondary readiness, and more are used to identify low performers. Chronic underperformance triggers state-directed turnaround efforts.

Current CDE initiatives include early literacy, computer science education, suicide prevention, and workforce development programs. Major funding from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act supports programs benefiting disadvantaged students in each public school. New accountability systems incorporate more well-rounded indicators, but balancing simplicity and fairness remains challenging.

Digital and Special Education

Digital learning utilizes technology to enhance and expand educational opportunities. The growth of online, blended learning, and computing resources has accelerated recently, and this has been furthered by COVID-19 necessities. Digital literacy is now an explicit goal across all subjects and grade levels within Colorado Academic Standards.

For special education, federal law mandates customized services enabling students with disabilities to access learning. This is true for elementary, middle, and high school. Funding supports programs from early intervention to transition. Gifted education also qualifies for formally identified students. Programming and inclusion approaches vary widely between districts. Both computing skills and meeting special needs are increasing priorities but require funding and implementation support.

Early Childhood, Higher Education, and Associations

Early childhood care and education in Colorado does not start in Kindergarten. The state-funded preschool aims to boost access but only serves at-risk children in certain districts. Broader needs exist to support development, learning, and preparation earlier, but programs remain limited.

In higher education, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) oversees policy direction. It works on access, affordability, quality, funding models, and more. The Colorado Education Association (CEA) is an influential policy and advocacy organization representing teachers’ interests through lobbying efforts. Teacher shortages and turnover, coupled with enrollment pressures, are current focal points.

STEM, Bilingual Education, and Safety

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is a priority both nationally and in Colorado. Academic standards integrate key concepts across subjects and grades. Dedicated STEM schools engage students in project-based learning and computing skills.

Bilingual education also receives support to help English learners while preserving native languages. The policy requires identification, specialized instruction, accommodations, and monitoring.

Protecting student and staff safety is another high priority addressed through comprehensive laws. These mandate training, prevention, intervention services, emergency response protocols, and facility standards. Still, needs persist in all areas due to funding constraints, inconsistent programming between districts, and evolving threats.


How are charter schools authorized and held accountable in Colorado?

Charter schools must be authorized by school districts or the Charter School Institute (CSI), which is responsible for oversight. Authorizers monitor academic, operational, and financial performance according to charter agreements. Interventions or revocations occur for underperformance. Schools also must comply with state/federal accountability laws.

What are some leading equity challenges facing Colorado’s education system?

Funding gaps, resource disparities, achievement gaps, exclusionary discipline practices, and lack of workforce diversity contribute to systemic inequities along socioeconomic, racial, and ability lines. Recent legislation aims to define and address inequities.

How does Colorado support students with special needs?

Federal law requires customized special education services outlined in Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Funding provides programming from early intervention to transition support. Gifted education is also mandated by the state. Inclusive environments are ideal but implementation varies.


About the author

Shannon Persad

As a seasoned journalist and Colorado native, I bring a deep-rooted connection and comprehensive understanding of Colorado to my work at My appreciation for the state’s rich history, vibrant culture, and pressing environmental issues drives my commitment to exploring its evolving landscape—from the bustling urban centers to the tranquil mountain towns.