Online Schools and Otherwise, More Colorado Families Using Open Enrollment

This morning Education News Colorado has published an important story by Nancy Mitchell on the growing number of families opting to enroll students in public education programs outside their district of residence:

This fall, 66,296 students are “choicing out” of their home district. That’s 8 percent of the state’s 843,316 pupils; in 2001, the comparable figure was 3 percent.

In education circles, it’s known as “inter-district open enrollment.” There’s also “intra-district open enrollment,” where students move to a public school outside their neighborhood but still within the school district. But even that description is too cut and dried.

As the story points out, the trend is accelerated by students selecting public online programs operated or chartered by another district. Online enrollment grew 14 percent from last year, more than 10 times the state’s total public school enrollment increase of 1.3 percent. Reading the Ed News story makes me wonder about a not-too-distant future where even school district boundaries themselves are a thing of the past.

But the timing of the story is crucial for the present, too. Right now, many districts are in the midst of their open enrollment season — a time when families must apply and declare their intent to send a student to a charter school or other public school outside their zone of residence. For example, the deadline for Round 1 of open enrollment in Jefferson County, the state’s largest school district, is next Monday, January 24.

Colorado is blessed with one of the nation’s very best open enrollment laws, from the standpoint of affording students the greatest opportunity and access to other programs. But even here there are limitations to choice based on space and other concerns. We can do better at providing school choice, which is why I’m a big champion of this month’s School Choice Week (January 23-29), and hope you’ll get involved, too.

Looking at current options, though, one of your very best resources for Colorado public school open enrollment information is the School Choice for Kids website, run by my friends in the Education Policy Center. Check it out!

School Choice for Kids