Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
First off, if you’re making a K-12 education decision for your child, you’re not alone. Tens of thousands of Colorado parents are making similar decisions each year. Secondly, you can do it! In Colorado, you have access to more school choice options than you might realize. Knowing and navigating these options can help you find a great school. And remember, every child is different. So, the best school for your neighbor’s child may be different than the best school for your child.
This post will breakdown the main types of schools available to you in Colorado, as well as provide additional education resources to help you find the best learning environment for your child. In short, Colorado families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Colorado at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
- Microschooling and Mix-and-Match Learning
Colorado Traditional Public Schools
Most children in Colorado (and in America) attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, and operated by school districts. Public schools are funded by federal, state, and local government. Did you know that Colorado spends, on average, $12,255 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
Colorado has unrestricted open enrollment for public schools. What this means is that you may be able to send your child to any public school in Colorado, regardless of where you live or where the school is located. You can take advantage of this important option by visiting multiple public schools near you and discovering which is the best fit for your family. Since Colorado has a law prohibiting public schools from charging tuition for transfer students, open enrollment is always a free option for families.
As a real-world example of the transfer process, you may wish to view the online application for transfers within the Cherry Creek School District. Schools may prioritize the transfer requests of certain student groups, such as students wishing to transfer out of low-performing schools.
Colorado Charter Schools
Another widespread public school choice in Colorado are charter schools. These schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate with learning methods. If traditional public schools are a little like luxury liners that are able to serve many people but slower to turn when the wind changes, charter schools are a little like sailboats, which are built for a smaller number of people but are easier to adjust and navigate.
As of 2023, Colorado has more than 260 charter schools that parents can choose from. More than 15% of Colorado students attend charter schools, placing Colorado in the top three states for proportion of students attending charter schools.
Each public charter school has a charter that explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. This purpose might be providing a STEAM program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. One recently-opened charter high school focuses on agriculture, food, health, and environmental stewardship; it even has a soil and seed lab! If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to determine admittance.
You can learn more at the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Colorado Magnet Schools
You can also choose magnet schools! These public schools allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, like engineering or STEM. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track.
Colorado has more than 20 magnet schools throughout the state. Districts with magnet schools include Denver Public Schools, Mapleton Public Schools, and Douglas County School District. The Aurora Public Schools District is currently in the process of turning seven of its campuses into magnet schools with different specializations for families to choose from. Two of these new magnet schools just opened in 2022: the Charles Burrell Visual and Performing Arts Campus and the Clara Brown Entrepreneurial Academy. And in Pueblo, Corwin International Magnet School recently won its fourth Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch award!
We interviewed one Colorado magnet school, New Emerson School at Columbus. Students at New Emerson combined the ideas of a library and a laboratory to make a “libratory.” Cool stuff!
Colorado Private Schools
Additionally, Colorado families can choose from private schools, which come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. These schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition.
Unfortunately, in Colorado there are no state-run scholarship programs to help families afford private school tuition. However, there may be privately funded scholarships available. ACE Scholarships, for instance, works to provide scholarships for disadvantaged students in Colorado and other states. Also, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.
Colorado Online Learning
Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. Colorado offers several free, full-time online learning options for students statewide. Some of these online schools, like Colorado Virtual Academy and Astravo Online Academy, are public charter schools. Other online options are managed by traditional districts. District-run online options that serve all grades K-12 and allow enrollment across districts include Colorado Connections Academy, Colorado Preparatory Academy, Aspire Online Academy, Boulder Universal, Branson School Online, District 6 Online Academy, Peyton Online Academy, and PSD Global Academy.
There are also many online schools serving specific grades. For example, students statewide in grades 4-12 who are interested in career technical education may wish to check out Destinations Career Academy of Colorado, which specializes in real-world training for specific careers. Students in grades 9-12 who need extra academic and social support to excel may want to consider Pikes Peak Online School.
You can dive into a full list of online options at the Colorado Department of Education. Note that some of the online options listed are available only to local students.
In addition, Colorado Digital Learning Solutions is the official state virtual school and offers part-time courses for middle-school and high-school students. While Colorado Digital Learning Solutions charges fees, students attending Colorado traditional public schools and public charter schools may have their fees subsidized. Another part-time option for some Colorado students is My Tech High, which partners with Colorado Early Colleges and the Vilas School District to offer online learning opportunities for students ages 5-18.
We recently interviewed a Colorado online school, GOAL Academy. This online school has drop-in centers where students can work and frequent school field trips, offering families a unique blend of virtual and in-person education.
Homeschooling is also available to Colorado families. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and is permitted in all 50 states. As both technology and school choices have spread in Colorado, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice with more support and resources than ever.
Colorado requires notice of your intent to homeschool, if you are using the state’s homeschool statue, 14 days prior to homeschooling annually. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your current school so that your student is not marked truant.
If you choose homeschooling, the state requires you to teach specific subjects (such as reading, writing, math, history, civics, literature, and science) and also requires some level of assessment for your child. Your student might still be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at your local public school – reach out to your district to check. In the case that you decide to switch back to public school, the school may administer placement tests to find the appropriate grade for your student.
Some online resources about Colorado homeschooling include: the Department of Education’s homeschooling page, Home School Legal Defense Association – Colorado, Christian Home Educators of Colorado, My Homeschooling Hub, Homeschool Treasury, Colorado Heritage Education School System, Colorado Springs Homeschool Sports League, and Western Colorado Homeschool Connections.
Colorado Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many Colorado families today are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning, close-knit relationships, and emphasizing children as individual learners.
Here are a few real examples of microschools in Colorado:
Zealous Schools is one organization operating a few microschools as independent schools in Colorado.
In Denver, Embark Education blends study and real world experience, allowing students to work half-hour shifts at a nearby coffee shop and bike shop.
Anastasis Academy is a Christian microschool in Centennial focusing on experiential learning and small, mixed-age classes.
North Star Microschool is a home-based learning center modeled after the one-room schoolhouse.
La Luz Education is an independent microschool / homeschool enrichment program for sixth and seventh graders. The program is tuition-free and offers education in both English and Spanish.
There are at least two Wildflower Montessori microschools in Colorado, in Denver and Aurora.
In Colorado, there have even been some district-run learning pods, such as those run by the Adams 12 District.
Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school.
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