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Colorado Is More Diverse But Children Of Color Still Fall Behind

Andre Deak
Flickr - Creative Commons

Colorado is becoming more diverse -- but children of color aren’t on equal footing with their white peers, according to the 2017 Kids Count report. The annual report by the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Annie E. Casey Foundation focused on the state’s growing minority populations, which are expected to make up almost half of Colorado’s population by 2050.

“When you really drill down and look at the data, we see some pretty big gaps, and those gaps too often fall along racial and ethnic lines as a result of policies and practices that over the years have disproportionately limited opportunities for Colorado’s kids of color ” said Sarah Hughes, research director with the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The study highlights three main areas where Colorado could improve: affordable housing, school funding and family leave.

Affordable housing

About a third of all Colorado children live in households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

“We see that that number really differs across races and ethnicities,” Hughes said.“Across Colorado, it’s about 1 in 4 white children who is living in a housing cost burdened household, and we compare that to more than half of all African-American children.”

Families whose budget is burdened by housing costs have less money for healthcare or healthy foods -- which disadvantages them further in school and makes their overall economic security more tenuous.

Lack of homeownership also keeps minorities from building wealth that can be passed down from generation to generation. This leads many people of color to live in higher poverty areas, which usually have underperforming schools.

According to the report, between 2011 and 2015, only 10 percent of poor white children in Colorado lived in high-poverty areas, compared to 31 percent of poor black children and 34 percent of poor Asian children. In some cases, children of color whose family incomes are above the poverty line remain more likely to live in a high-poverty area than white children whose family income is below the poverty level.

School funding

The report raises red flags about Colorado’s current system of funding schools, pointing out that 60 percent of students in the state’s poorest districts were students of color. The report also said that school funding systems that are dependent on local property values create or worsen inequality in communities.

"In my opinion, there is no good policy rationale for supporting the current system."

Leslie Colwell, the vice president for education initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said segregationist housing policies of yesteryear still have impacts on the way school districts are funded today.

“We still see ripples today of lending practices like redlining, which limited where many of our grandparents could live because of their race and in turn created inequities in property values, the foundation of our K-12 funding system,” she said.

Starting in the 1930s, redlining was a common practice used by the Federal Housing Administration to deny mortgages to residents in minority neighborhoods.

“School district boundaries follow some of these trends – the boundary between Littleton and Sheridan is a great example,” said Colwell. “If you look at the student population in each district and at disparities in the amount of wealth on each side of the dividing line.”

This all may seem like old news, but the report also points to a stunning disparity between some districts.

Using data from the Colorado Department of Education, the Children’s Campaign determined that the assessed property value in the state’s wealthiest districts amounted to $709,104 per student. Conversely, the state’s poorest districts see $48,376 per student in assessed property value.

“In my opinion, there is no good policy rationale for supporting the current system,” Colwell said.

Family leave

In Colorado, 46 percent of working parents are eligible for unpaid family leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act -- the ninth lowest eligibility rate of any state in the country. But an even smaller percentage of parents can actually take the leave.

“Only about 38 percent of all Colorado parents can afford to take the unpaid leave that they are eligible for,” Hughes said.

Those gaps get bigger when race and ethnicity are taken into account. About 43 percent of white parents in the state can take the unpaid leave, but that number drops to 26 percent of Hispanic parents.

“We know that being home to stay home and take care of a new baby is really important during those early years when bonding is important,” Hughes said.

Employers are also a big factor. If they have less than 50 employees, they are not required to offer unpaid leave. For many more parents, even if unpaid leave is available, the wages lost during that time would leave them unable to support themselves without assistance.

Hughes said that she is hopeful that future policies will keep all children in mind.

“When we work toward making things more equitable it really benefits all of us, because if we remove a barrier for one child, we know we are clearing a better path to success for all kids in our state,” she said.  

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