Why we support school choice

In Colorado, school choice has appropriately always enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans. Nationally, choice has too often been divisive, with some Republicans using choice as a wedge issue to deconstruct the Federal role in education, while other Democrats have resisted change in any form in an attempt to preserve the status quo. But in Colorado, the emergence of elected Democrats independent from legacy policies and willing to form broad coalitions has reframed the debate on education reform.

School choice appeals to the best instincts of both political parties. It allows Democrats to adhere to their core principals of equality and opportunity – so that a student’s zip code does not determine the quality of their education. It allows Republicans to introduce moderate – and managed – market dynamics and the beginnings of limited competition in the public school sector.

Although established in principal for over a decade, it is only recently that school choice has been put into wide practice, particularly in Colorado’s capital of Denver. Denver Public Schools (DPS) has developed a model school choice program with wide public support. Over half of public school students in Denver now attend class somewhere other than their local school of assignment.

DPS has encouraged school choice: establishing a separate office to guide reform; improving oversight of its high-performing charter schools; and instituting a color-coded school performance framework to academically rank all schools. With these and other initiatives, DPS’s students – 72 percent from low-income families – have outpaced the State in academic growth every year for the past five years.

This winter, after a multi-year initiative driven by local nonprofit GetSmart Schools, DPS is instituting its new SchoolChoice program: a single enrollment process where Denver’s families will rank order their choices to attend any public school – traditional, magnet, or charter – in the city. This program has the full participation of every school and constituent group, placing Denver as the first large urban district in the country where charter school leaders, district administrators, and advocacy groups are all actively working together to ensure equality of resources and policies.

By forming a bi-partisan coalition around school choice, Colorado’s Democrats for education reform have brought red and blue factions together in a way that should serve as a national model. This political coalition in Colorado is moving it’s majestic purple mountains in education policy, and improving academic outcomes for all its students.

Garcia is the current Lieutenant Governor of Colorado

Hancock is the Mayor of Denver

Rep. Polis (D-Colo.) represents Colorado's 2nd District

State Senator Johnston (D-Denver) represents Colorado's 33rd District

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