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School choice: What is it and how does it work in Colorado?

At its most basic, school choice means students can request to attend any public school in Colorado for free, even across district lines.

Students in Barbara Haggerty's third grade class at Pennock Elementary School are already hard at work inside their classroom at the start of another school year on August 22, 2019 in Brighton. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado students have had school choice for more than two decades, and hundreds of thousands of families use it every year.

But what exactly is it, and how does it work? We’ve answered some of the most common questions below.

What is school choice?

At its most basic, school choice means students can request to attend any public school in Colorado for free, even across district lines. That’s different from how many adults remember their childhoods, when students simply went to the school closest to their homes. School choice is enshrined in Colorado law.

Which types of schools can families choose from?

There are several types of public schools in Colorado.

District-run schools are the most common. These are traditional schools overseen by the district school board. You might hear them referred to as “boundary schools,” because they were set up to serve the immediate neighborhood. In most districts, all children who live in the boundary get a seat, but children outside the boundary can request to attend.

Innovation schools are district-run schools exempt from certain state and district rules. Waivers allow them to do things like lengthen the school day or hire teachers on separate year-to-year contracts rather than abiding by the teachers union contract. Many innovation schools serve a boundary but are open to all students through choice.

Magnet and option schools are district-run schools with a particular focus. They might serve students identified as gifted and talented, for example, or focus on arts education. Magnet schools typically do not serve a boundary and may require students to meet certain criteria.

Charter schools are public schools run by independent boards of directors rather than by the district school board. Like innovation schools, charter schools have waivers from certain rules. Most charter schools do not serve a boundary, meaning students must “choice in.”

Online schools are public schools where students complete some or all of their coursework on the computer. Online schools can be district-run or charter schools.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.


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