Organization of Education in Colorado

  • ARTICLE IX: The foundation for Colorado’s system of public education

     
    The framers of the Colorado Constitution wanted the administration of public schools to be “as near the people as possible.”

    Specifically, Article IX of the Colorado Constitution contains the legal foundation for our state’s public school system, including the respective roles of the General Assembly, State Board of Education and local school boards.
    • Section 1 vests the general supervision of the public schools in the State Board of Education.
    • Section 2 directs the Legislature to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools, wherein all state residents ages six to 21 may be educated gratuitously.
    • Section 7 forbids the use of public funds for the support of private schools, churches or sectarian purposes.
    • Section 8 prohibits religious or racial discrimination.
    • Section 11 provides for compulsory education.
    • Section 15, the Local Control Clause, vests “control of instruction in the public schools” in locally elected school boards.
    • Section 16 prohibits the General Assembly and the State Board of Education from prescribing the textbooks to be used in the public schools.
    The operation of Colorado’s 178 school districts is a big business involving ever-increasing numbers of students and personnel. Nearly 900,000 children are enrolled in Colorado’s public schools, and the number grows annually. The budget for Colorado school districts exceeds $5.2 billion dollars, from local, state and federal revenues.

    As the focus on school district accountability has intensified, the role of the school board member has increased proportionally. Part of being a well-informed public official means understanding the structure of education in Colorado. In this chapter, we will provide an overview of the current structure.
     


    The Federal Constitution


    The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education characterized public education as “perhaps the most important function” of local as well as state government. [74 S.Ct. 686 (1954).] Local control of instruction is not only vital to continued public support of public schools, but it is also of overriding importance from an educational standpoint: Local needs can shape local educational programs.

    The federal Constitution makes no reference to public education. Instead, public education is established as a state function in each of the 50 state constitutions. Most states have centralized, state-administered systems of education.
     


    The Colorado Constitution


    Article IX of the Colorado Constitution contains the legal foundation for our state’s public school system, including the respective roles of the General Assembly, State Board of Education and local school boards. (See text box.)
     
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