This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More at chalkbeat.org.
When Jennifer Velez was unhappy with her kids’ schools, she didn’t know that in Colorado she could take them across district boundaries.
Then, a friend who was coaching her son’s youth football team said he was moving his son to Mapleton. If she sent her son, too, the kids would at least have each other in the new school. She was convinced.
“It was super easy,” Velez said. The Mapleton school was only four miles from her home in the Adams 12 district. “I thought, if it doesn’t work, I can always move him back to our district.”
But she liked the new Mapleton schools, and a year later, she moved her daughter there, too. Mapleton Public Schools, a district of almost 9,000 students north of Denver, every year attracts thousands of families like Velez’s who cross district boundaries to send their kids to schools there.
Their choices have helped keep up Mapleton’s enrollment during a time when most other metro area districts are losing students. Colorado’s open enrollment system allows parents to enroll their children in any district that has room for them. Mapleton has taken advantage of that system, sometimes referring to itself as a “destination district” with small, specialized schools tailored to students’ needs. The district provides transportation to all students once within the district boundaries, removing part of the barrier that limits parents’ ability to exercise school choice in other districts. Mapleton also builds schools near its boundaries with other districts and operates an online school that enrolls students from around the state.
Among 15 metro area districts, the only other district with an upward enrollment trend over the last five years is the Brighton-based School District 27J where development is booming. Maintaining or growing enrollment helps districts avoid budget cuts as Colorado’s school funding is tied to student counts.