Colorado has been a national leader in terms of accessible school choice. The brief by A+ Colorado, School Choice with Unified Enrollment, examines both the opportunities and challenges school choice has offered families in Denver. The district moved to a unified choice enrollment platform in 2012.
Before the launch of the unified enrollment platform, SchoolChoice, approximately 46% of families were already sending their children to schools that were out of traditional boundaries. The development of unified enrollment streamlined the application process to make it more accessible for families to apply to schools outside of their assigned school. In order to improve simplicity, DPS introduced a new online application in 2018. Due to the development of the application process, 49% of students are now attending non-boundary schools in Denver.
The SchoolChoice platform has made strides in addressing the equity gap within Denver schools. In order to focus on and make strides in relation to this gap in the education system, DPS made a decision in 2015 to give priority access into the 30 top performing schools to students that qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. This school choice initiative led to an 8% decrease in these students attending schools that were struggling, classified as orange or red schools in the DPS accountability system. The decrease in students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program in orange and red schools shows a direct impact on the equity gap.
While there is still a greater likelihood for affluent students to have greater access to the highest performing schools, the Denver Public School system is proactively creating solutions to change this inequity. The unified enrollment system, as well as other initiatives, have increased equitable access to schools for all families. This increase has reduced the correlation between a student’s zip code and the educational opportunity that they are provided.