COLORADO SPRINGS — Thousands of students are returning to the classroom this week in southern Colorado and thousands will be attending a school either outside of their neighborhood or even outside their home district.
It’s because of a nearly 30-year-old law passed by voters in Colorado that allows for “School Choice”. Families can apply for their students to attend schools outside of their neighborhood.
“That’s what school choice is all about, giving parents options to meet the needs of their kids,” Deborah Hendrix, Executive Director of Parents Challenge said.
Parents Challenge is an organization that helps families through the school choice process and offers financial assistance for families looking to attend private schools or in need of help to offset the costs of uniforms and other expenses for charter and public schools.
Hendrix said about half of its families attend private schools.
“Different districts are offering different types of programs and different types of services,” Hendrix said.
For some parents like Aisha Young, the option of attending a charter school, also outside of her district lines has made an impact on her.
When Young’s daughter was only three years old, Young placed her on wait-lists for three charter schools in the area.
“It sounded very crazy because I knew I wasn’t one of those prestigious people you know like Manhattan NY, at birth, you know you’re making school decisions,” Young said.
Funding for charter schools goes to the school district it’s a part of, although the charter school operates independently of the district’s school board.
Young’s daughter has been enrolled in The Vanguard School since Kindergarten.
School Choice does give parents more of a say in where their kid receives an education, but it also impacts the school district in terms of the amount of funding coming in.
“If we have a family who really wants to be in Academy School District 20 and we have space available for them then we want to welcome them with open arms,” Becky Allan, Chief Financial Officer of Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs said.
District 20 has the largest student population in Colorado Springs. Of its 26,607 students, more than 5,700 reside in other districts.
“It adds to that revenue base for your school district, and District 20 is funded dead last in the state,” Allan said.
Out of all 178 school districts in Colorado, District 20 does have the lowest “per pupil” funding in the state. It’s in part because of its growing population.
“Typically the larger you are the less you get per student because you have a larger economy of scale,” Allan said.
Still, it doesn’t necessarily hurt the district to recruit and retain students. Declining enrollment can have a big impact on the district’s financially as well.
“The reality is if you have a large decline in enrollment it is going to start to be felt, you have to think about budget cuts in order to make ends meet,” Allan said.
Joe Schott, President of the Colorado Springs Education Association, the teacher’s union for Colorado Springs School District 11 said there’s a time and place for school choice.
“From a teacher perspective, it’s not necessarily a huge thing because teachers teach the kids in front of them,” Schott said, “The sort of rabid lust for choice in America has an effect on local schools.”
Schott points to the benefits of choice when it comes to certain academic and extracurricular programs. He adds that it can have a destabilizing effect in some cases.
“If you have a school where the test scores are low, the parents that have the ability to move their kids, move their kids out, that segregates by wealth,” Schott said.
Schott explained the ability to transport kids out of district is something not every family has access to, and most districts do not provide transportation for out of district students.
“It’s public, this is, it’s an endeavor that we as Americans, Coloradans have engaged for a reason, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we’re making that work for everybody, not creating ways for people to opt out of pieces that they don’t like,” Schott said.
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