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Unlocking opportunity: The power of charter schools for Colorado parents

The words charter school written in white chalk on a green blackboard

Editor’s note:  This article was written by Dawna Taylor.  She is the vice president of school services for the Colorado League of Charter Schools, a membership organization representing the interests of Colorado’s 260+ public charter schools serving over 137,000 students. Dawna is an experienced educator with expertise in developing and managing charter schools across the country including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.

This time of year often places parents at a crossroads when considering which school will best match their child’s needs. From chronically underfunded education budgets to learning loss due to the pandemic, educational challenges abound — and identifying a school that will provide the best support and learning opportunities for your child can be daunting.

Fortunately, Colorado provides a variety of public school options to students and families. During this open enrollment season, we encourage parents to explore charter school options, and we’ve highlighted resources to help inform that decision below.

Every student has a unique blend of learning styles and needs. Charter schools – tuition-free, public schools that often have greater flexibility and autonomy than non-charter schools – play a vital role in offering choices when it comes to where and how students receive their education. Families have many options to choose from when selecting the best school for their child’s needs and goals. For instance, if your child loves STEM and aviation, or the arts, or if your child has unique needs that are better addressed in a smaller classroom environment, there are charter schools that can meet those needs and nourish those interests.

In terms of academic performance, Harvard University recently ranked our state as second in the nation for charter sector performance, and charter school students in Colorado gained nearly a year of additional learning compared to the average charter school student on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Further, a 2023 Stanford study found that charter school students gained an additional 15 days of learning in reading and 13 days of learning in math when compared to their non-charter peers (and these gains were even larger for students of color and low-income students).

Colorado’s charter schools can also serve as innovation hubs within a school district and offer a variety of different models – from college prep to experiential to Montessori and more. The Colorado League of Charter Schools offers a school finder tool that allows you to search for a school by specific criteria including by district, model, program category or grade level. The Colorado charter sector continues to promote student success, foster innovation, and provide students and families diverse and meaningful public education options.

Colorado has the second highest charter school market share within the U.S., and charter school enrollment continues to grow. Currently, there are more than 260 charter schools serving over 137,000 students – or more than 15% of total public school enrollment in Colorado. Charter schools span urban, suburban, and rural areas in our state and programming models range from agriculture and the arts to language immersion and career and technical education. There may very well be a charter school near you that will complement the needs and interests of your student(s) to provide an educational environment where they can grow and thrive.