School choice in Colorado

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See also

School choice refers to the educational alternatives available to parents who do not wish to send their children to the local district public schools to which they are assigned. Public school choice options include open enrollment policies, magnet schools and charter schools. Other options include traditional school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, personal tax credits and deductions and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to receive public funds directly for educational expenses.[1][2]

School choice options in Colorado include: charter schools, a limited, location-specific voucher program, open enrollment policies and online learning programs. In addition, about 6.50 percent of school age children in the state attended private schools in the 2011-12 academic year, and an estimated 2.67 percent were homeschooled in 2012-13.

Educational choice options

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Charter schools

See also: Charter schools in Colorado

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in the 2012-13 academic year there were 186 charter schools operating in Colorado. During that time, charter schools enrolled 89,451 students.[3][4]

Charter school authorizers are, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the organizations "designated to approve, monitor, renew, and, if necessary, close charter schools." As of June 2014, the organizations in the following table were listed by NACSA as charter school authorizers in Colorado:[5]

Magnet schools

Magnet schools, sometimes called theme-based schools, are public schools of choice that use a specialized subject area or innovative learning approach to attract students from more diverse backgrounds. In fact, magnet schools began as a way to desegregate public schools through choice rather than force. Magnet schools can reach beyond the barriers of school districts, but they are still managed and funded publicly by local districts, even though they are centered around specialized themes and subjects.[6][7]

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 2,949 magnet schools in the United States. In that year, Colorado had 24 magnet schools that served 10,833 students. Approximately 61% percent of students enrolled in Colorado magnet schools were classified as a minority. That percentage of students was predominately Hispanic. This was higher than Colorado's average of 44 percent minority enrollment. The state also reported an average student:teacher ratio of 18:1 in magnet schools, which is higher than the state average of 15:1 in traditional public schools. The table below lists this information again and compares it to Colorado's neighboring states.[8][9]

Magnet school participation, 2011-2012
State Magnet schools in the state Students in magnet schools Minority enrollment percentage Student:teacher ratio
Colorado 24 10,833 61% 18:1
New Mexico 2 523 81% 15:1
Wyoming No data available
Utah 24 11,216 24% 22
Source: Public School Review, "Public School Review state magnet school pages," accessed December 12, 2014

School vouchers

The state has one school voucher program: the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program. Under the program, 500 tuition vouchers are provided that may be used at a participating private school (vouchers cannot be used for online schools or homeschooling). Any public school student who has spent at least one year enrolled in the Douglas County School District is eligible. As of June 2014, the program is on hiatus pending a decision by the state supreme court.[10]

Online learning

Colorado operates a state-led, supplemental online learning program, Colorado Online Learning. In addition, there are fully virtual learning programs that operate across district boundaries and district-level programs (both fully virtual and supplemental). As of July 2013, the following programs were available:[11]

  • 5 multi-district charters
  • 21 multi-district schools
  • 11 single-district schools
  • 17 single-district programs

In the 2012-13 academic year, the Colorado Department of Education reported that 17,289 students were enrolled in full-time and part-time online learning programs.[11]

Private schools

In the 2011-12 school year, 55,496 students, or 6.50 percent of school age children, were enrolled in 386 private schools. Colorado ranks 39th highest in the nation in private school attendance.[12]

Public school open enrollment

According to the Education Commission of the States, Colorado has both intra-district and inter-district open enrollment policies. Under the state's intra-district/mandatory and inter-district/voluntary policy, low income students in grades one through eight may be eligible for transportation tokens to attend a different school in their own district or a school in another district.[13]


In Colorado in 2012-2013 an estimated 23,843 students, or 2.67 percent of the total student-aged population, were homeschooled.[14]

A summary of the state's laws relating to homeschooling can be accessed here.

Studies and reports

Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

In 2014 the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published a description of and commentary on school choice options in the United States. Regarding the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, the foundation said, "The Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, the nation’s only voucher program authorized by a public school district, allows any child attending a Douglas County public school to be eligible for a voucher. Still, the innovative program could improve in several areas. First, the program is too limited by the 500-student cap. Second, Douglas County’s vouchers treat private school students unfairly by funding them significantly below what they would get in their local public schools. Finally, numerous regulations have been imposed on private schools that accept voucher students. Participating private schools must (1) show that students are achieving and growing academically to remain eligible, (2) provide three years of financial history, (3) release students for state or district assessments, and (4) allow voucher students to opt-out of any religious activities. For the program to grow, district leaders should consider removing the enrollment cap, increasing the per-voucher funding amount, and giving private schools more autonomy."[15]

The full report can be accessed here.

School choice ballot measures

See also: School choice on the ballot and List of Colorado ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked the following statewide ballot measures relating to school choice.

  1. Colorado Income Tax Credit for Education, Initiative 17 (1998)

Recent news

This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the term "Colorado + Education + Choice"

All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.

Colorado School Choice News Feed

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See also


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, "School Choice and Charters," accessed June 18, 2014
  2. Friedman Foundation for School Choice, "What is School Choice?" accessed June 18, 2014
  3. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Students - Colorado," accessed June 19, 2014
  4. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Schools - Colorado," accessed June 19, 2014
  5. National Association of Charter School Authorizers, "Colorado Charter Authorizers," accessed June 18, 2014
  6. Public School Review, "What is a magnet school?" accessed December 9, 2014
  7. Magnet Schools of America, "What are magnet schools?" accessed December 9, 2014
  8. National Center for Education Statistics, "Selected statistics from the common core of data: School year 2011-2012," accessed December 12, 2014
  9. Public School Review, "Colorado magnet schools," accessed December 12, 2014
  10. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "Colorado - Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program," accessed June 19, 2014
  11. 11.0 11.1 Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning, "Colorado," accessed June 19, 2014
  12. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Private School Universe Survey (PSS)", 2011-12 ; "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, v.1a.," accessed May 12, 2014
  13. Education Commission of the States, "Open Enrollment: 50-State Report," accessed June 19, 2014
  14. A2Z Home's Cool, "Number of Homeschoolers in the USA," updated February 2, 2014
  15. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "The ABCs of School Choice - 2014 Edition," accessed June 18, 2014