Report: Routt County one of Colorado’s best for school access; access is highly correlated with income |

Report: Routt County one of Colorado’s best for school access; access is highly correlated with income

Ready Colorado, a conservative leaning education advocacy group, looked at access across the state to high-quality schools, which produced this map, an interactive look at some of the education disparities across the state. (Screenshot)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a project designed to identify access to high quality schools for students across Colorado, Routt County showed to have some of the best access in the state.

That study, conducted by Ready Colorado, a conservative leaning education advocacy group, found that access was highly correlated with income. Colorado students who live in high-income zip codes are seven times as likely to have access to a high quality school as those in low-income zip codes.

Ready Colorado also created an interactive map that starkly shows how access to high-quality schools varies across the state. The study sought to look at practical access to schools, taking into account available seats in schools compared to the student population and driving time to that school.

The study defined high-quality schools as the top 20% of schools at each level in the state using the 2019 school performance scores from the Colorado Department of Education.

The bottom line of the study from ReadyCO President Luke Ragland: “We have a long way to go to ensure that every kid in Colorado has access to a high-quality school regardless of their zip code.”

Ragland argues access to a high-quality school will become even more important after the pandemic, which has seen students across the state learning from home.

Another key takeaway from the study was how much more likely students living in high-income areas were to have access to high-quality schools compared to low-income areas — something the report says is not surprising.

That disparity can be seen here in Northwest Colorado.

Ragland said that the Steamboat Springs area really shined in the study with a lot of that due to access to the Steamboat Springs School District. The district is in the 85th percentile in the Colorado Department of Education’s performance ratings, meeting the top 20% metric of a high-quality school the study used.

“When you look at it from a practical perspective like we have in this report, it is clear that families are winning because of the high quality options they have there in town,” Ragland said.

Routt County sticks out on the map as having some of the best school access in Northwest Colorado, and it also has one of the higher median household incomes in the region.

According to the estimates from the United States Census Bureau, the 2019 median household income of Routt County was over $77,000, where in Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties it was more than $20,000 less.

“That is not a great story,” Ragland said about the economic disparity in access to education. “It doesn’t have to be that way. We know that demographics do not have to equal destiny.”

He said there are many examples in the study of a high-quality school in a low-income area and good access for those students to the school.

“It isn’t something that can’t happen, but unfortunately, it isn’t something that is happening enough,” Ragland said.

Rural areas of the state also lacked the access the high-quality schools in more urban places, though the correlation was not as strong as it was to income. In scoring zip codes, the study weighted drive time at 40% and likelihood of being a seat in a high-quality school 60% of the score.

For Ragland, the study shows that a schooling system based on zones and boundaries do not make sense, and school choice should be more emphasized than it is now. Whether people agree with his ideas for how to change the system, he hopes the map will highlight the problems ahead.

“Regardless of what the right way to change the system is, we want people to have a realistic look at the inequalities that exist in our school system, with the hope that people feel a sense of urgency to do something to improve,” Ragland said.

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