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Colorado Education; Then and Now


August 9, 2017

I've taken a long break from legislative duties this summer attending graduations in Illinois, a family reunion in Myrtle Beach and three weeks at the Harvard Kennedy School of Executive Education for State and Local Government. Being at the oldest university in the United States, Harvard being chartered in 1650, made me start thinking about the history of education in Colorado.

Colorado has 1,734 public schools divided into 259 school districts. Some of these schools were started while Colorado was still a territory. The first school in our state was started by Abner Brown. Abner was 30 years old when he passed through Boulder on his way to the Gold Hill gold mines. He noticed there were children in the small town but no school. After two weeks working in the mines Abner decided that the mining life was not for him. He returned to Boulder and started the first school in what would become the state of Colorado. The one room school building was completed in 1860 at a cost of $1,200. It was in use until 1872, when it was moved to make room for a much larger Central School. This new school stood until 1972 when it was torn down to make room for future development.

The oldest school in continuous use is in Gold Hill, Colorado. Located in Boulder County, Gold Hill was the first permanent mining settlement in Colorado. The small town grew to a population of 1,500 during the gold boom. Unfortunately, the gold eventually ran out and the town started to decline. A forest fire in 1860 destroyed many of the structures and by 1870 the population had fallen to six. In 1872, two prospectors found an outcropping of tellurium and the town began to boom. The town was rebuilt and, a year later, Gold Hill school opened. In 1890, the town outgrew this building, which was dismantled and moved, and a new school immediately built on the same site. It is this building that remains standing and is in use as a school today. By 1890 there were 60 students and 2 teachers. In 1898, a small room was added which serves as the school library today.

The University of Denver is the oldest college in Colorado. It was founded in 1864 by John Evans, former Governor of the Colorado territory, appointee of President Lincoln. Governor Evans started the school, then known as the Colorado Seminary, in order help "civilize" the newly created city of Denver. The seminary was founded as a Methodist institution. In 1880, it was renamed the University of Denver. Originally located in downtown Denver the campus was relocated to land donated by potato farmer Rufus Clark and continues today in this location.

The first school in El Paso County was founded in 1871 by Mary "Queen" Palmer, wife of city founder William Palmer. Classes were held in a house located at the corner of Bijou Street and Cascade Avenue rented by Mrs. Palmer. Palmer High School stands on this site today. In August 1872 School District 11 was established. By 1883 there were more than 1,000 students enrolled in the district and 1,776 students on opening day of the Colorado Springs High School building in 1893.

Those of you with school age children will know that school started on August 10th. You probably have kids in either the Widefield or Fountain-Fort Carson districts. Some statistics on these districts follow:

Receiving $8,124 per pupil in funding, Widefield District 3 is the 5th lowest funded district in the state. The district serves nearly 9,700 students in eight elementary, three middle, two high schools and James Madison Charter Academy. Despite the low funding their educational opportunities include Widefield Elementary which is a music focus school and Talbott Steam Innovation School, a STEAM focus school. Widefield School District 3 also provides many STEM programs through Project Lead the Way (PLTW) courses from middle to high school. Of the school districts in El Paso County Widefield is rated #2 of 16 in diversity and #2 of 15 in safety.

Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, established in 1890, receives $9,846 per student. The district includes the City of Fountain, Fort Carson Military Installation, Rock Creek and surrounding rural areas. With the highest percentage of military students among Colorado school districts Fountain-Fort Carson is one of only thirty districts in the United States considered "heavily impacted" by the US Department of Education. As a result, the District receives additional federal funding to assist with some of the challenges of serving a military community and to compensate for lost tax revenues. Fountain-Fort Carson district is rated #1 of 16 in diversity, #8 of 15 in safety, #3 of 16 for best teachers in the county and #4 of 16 for best district in El Paso County.

Funding to all schools come from a combination of state and local tax contributions, federal and state grants, private partnership grants and other discretionary income. You can see how your school is receiving and spending the money at

As we approach the next session, I would like to hear from you regarding the issues of concern for you and your families. Please contact me at: [email protected] or [email protected], facebook: lois.landgraf.5,, twitter: landgrafforjobs


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