Across the Street column: School choice in action in Colorado
Across the Street
School choice is a term for K-12 public education options describing a wide array of programs offering students and their families alternatives to those publicly provided schools assigned based on the location of their family residence. Two popular school choices are charter schools and open enrollment.
Charter schools are public schools that are founded by parents, teachers or community members. They provide alternative educational programs that differ from traditional public schools. Colorado charter schools operate by way of a contract (charter) that has been authorized either by a school district or the Colorado Charter School Institute.
An example of school choice in Western Colorado is the Durango School District. Durango has two Charter School Institute schools and four private schools. This year the district opened its first online school with Colorado Connections Academy @ Durango, an online platform available to students across the state. They also have a new elementary school as well as a new public charter school sponsored by the district.
Superintendent Dan Snowberger is a supporter of school choice. Last November, Durango passed a $1.7 million mill levy override that would be shared equally with charter school students. Schools under the Charter School Institute typically do not get a piece of mill levy override money. “The district’s actions said loud and clear that it embraces and values each and every one of the students in their public schools,” Snowberger said.
In Lake County School District in Leadville, parents are taking advantage of open enrollment to select a school that they believe is the best choice for their children. Open enrollment allows students to enroll in schools outside the district for which they are zoned.
The district includes three schools: West Park Elementary, Lake County Intermediate and the recently upgraded Lake County High School. Lake County also has a charter school — Greater Heights Academy — with 52 students. Even with a physical school upgrade many parents choose to travel in order to exercise their educational choices. With a total of 911 students living within the district, 61 Leadville students travel to Buena Vista School District, 32 are enrolled in Summit County School District and 22 students are driven over Vail Pass daily to attend Eagle County School District.
Parents want to be involved in their child’s education and often take advantage of opportunities other than their local neighborhood school. In Durango it was a fairness issue of distributing tax dollars equally to include charter schools and expanding online choices. In Leadville it united parents with carpooling and community discussions about what neighboring schools had to offer. In both cases parents are taking an active role in selecting the school that best fits their child. Under the new administration there may be more school choice programs on the horizon. Stay tuned.
Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol. She is also an assistant for Rep. Rankin.
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