- Roughly 145,400 students in Colorado — or 16% of all students in the state — used their school choice option to attend traditional public schools other than the one normally assigned, while 13% of students in the state attend charter schools, according to a new report, “Open Doors, Open Districts,” which examines the use of school choice and open enrollment in Colorado, Chalkbeat reports.
- Families who use school choice options in the state are more likely to be white and in the middle or upper socioeconomic class, as transportation is one barrier for school choice options for lower-income families who can’t afford the time and cost of transporting students. Another major obstacle is lack of information and confusion over enrollment as deadlines for paperwork to schools varies greatly within the state.
- The report recommends that the state and school districts create more enrollment consistency between districts, provide better information to parents (especially non-English-speaking families) about schools and the enrollment process, and remove barriers to transportation. However, some Democratic lawmakers and school districts are concerned that addressing the transportation issues would create a scenario where larger, wealthier districts would seek to “poach students.”
Wealthier families have always had more options when it comes to school attendance. Wealthier people can afford private schools with good reputations, can transport their children to school themselves, and can afford to move to school districts with better schools, if they choose to enroll their children in public schools. The growth of school choice was an attempt to level the playing field for less financially fortunate families and, to some degree, it has helped. Vouchers, though controversial, are another way some states are seeking to make school options more accessible to all families. However, there are still obstacles that need to be addressed, as this new report notes.
One of the issues noted in the article is the confusion over the enrollment process. Some larger cities, including Denver and New Orleans, have been experimenting with a common enrollment process that has eased the pain for some families. The process is designed to help families explore many options in one place and to match students with schools that are appropriate for their needs. Transportation is another barrier for families, especially in rural communities without a mass transit system. Most states don’t require that charter and private schools offer transportation, though some do offer limited transportation options as a way to attract students. Online public schools are another way to address the issue, but this method of instruction does not work for all students.
As families gain more school choice options, many public schools are left with new challenges. Since many private and charter schools don’t offer extensive services for special needs students, traditional public schools are often left with a larger proportion of special needs students in their schools. They also tend to have greater numbers of English learners for the same reason. States need to find ways to help address these issues as well, not only through additional funding, but also by considering how the increased percentage of students with additional needs affects school performance scores as parents compare them with other school choices.