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Last Upated: September 27, 2021
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 K-12 education 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 six 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 academies, homeschooling and learning pods.
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Colorado at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
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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, $11,030 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. Traditional public schools aren’t all the same: They may differ in learning methods and one may just “feel different” than another to you.
Find out more about public schools in your state here: Colorado’s Department of Education.
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 the 2019-2020 school year, Colorado has more than 250 charter schools that parents can choose from.
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. 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.
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.
For example, we recently 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!
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.
There are more than 500 private schools across the state of Colorado. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $10,546 for elementary schools and $15,840 for high schools. Also, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.
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.
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, like Colorado Connections Academy, Colorado Virtual Academy, and Colorado Preparatory Academy. You can dive into a full list of online options – some of which are district-specific and some of which are statewide – at the Colorado Department of Education. Students in grades 6-12 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.
In addition, Colorado Digital Learning Solutions 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 Colorado Early Colleges, the Vilas School District, and Kiowa County School District RE-2 to offer students 5-18 online learning.
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. To learn more about the online school community in your state, check out the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families.
Families can enroll at Colorado Virtual Academy on a rolling basis. At Connections Academy, first semester enrollment closed September 23, but Grades K-11 can apply for the second semester. At Pikes Peak Online School, enrollment ends mid-September, but occasionally spots become available for the second semester.
As of September 2021, Colorado Virtual Academy has seats available for grades K-12, while Pikes Peak Online School has seats available for grades 9-12. Colorado Connections Academy is accepting applications for the second semester for grades K-11.
Colorado Connections Academy provides students a desktop computer and internet reimbursement. Pikes Peak Online School provides loaner computers and internet service reimbursement in cases of financial need. Destinations Career Academy students may be able to receive a loaner laptop. Colorado Virtual Academy and Colorado Preparatory Academy do not provide technology and wifi, but exceptions due to financial need may be possible.
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.
In Colorado, the state requires notice of your intent to homeschool, if you are homeschooling under Colorado’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. In the case that you want to switch back to public school in the middle of the school year, assessments will be administered and used for placement into 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’s Colorado page, 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.
Micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. It’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it. Learn more about learning pods.
If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in Colorado. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschooled students in Colorado may still be eligible to participate in sports, activities, or classes at local public schools.
If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Colorado classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.
If your child is going to be enrolled in remote learning through your local public school and supervised by an adult in your learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. In Colorado, there have even been some district-run learning pods, such as those run by the Adams 12 District. Keep in mind that you have multiple online learning options, including several permanent, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide.
In September 2020, Gov. Polis issued an Executive Order with temporary guidelines for pods and childcare, saying that pods that serve up to five kids between the ages of six and nine, or up to eight kids who are ten years of age or older, did not require a license. However, that order was rescinded in April 2021.
For additional information about school choices in Colorado, visit these resources:
National School Choice Week 2022 will take place January 23 – 29, 2022. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Check out ideas, inspiration, and more information!
Colorado celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 499 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Colorado.
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