Some Adams 14 students who want to attend higher performing schools may have more options this fall as the state appears willing to pay for transportation.

It would be the first time the state has covered transportation costs for students who want to move from low-rated schools to better ones. The conversation comes weeks after the State Board of Education gave the district more time to develop improvement plans.

On Friday, Colorado Department of Education staff presented two possible options for funding transportation to the State Board of Education. The board opted not to choose one, but instead asked the department to pursue both, in the interest of time, to see if one could work by the start of the 2022-23 school year. .

Board members said since Adams 14 is ‘in crisis’ – it’s the first district where several years of poor performance triggered state intervention that included outside management – they want to remove the barrier transportation for students wishing to go to school elsewhere under Colorado. open enrollment program. Adams 14 has approximately 6,100 students enrolled while approximately 3,000 students have elected to leave the district.

Transportation has been a major barrier to exercising school choice both within districts and between districts. Advocates say students deserve more opportunities, but school districts have raised objections because the loss of students threatens their ability to fund programs for those who remain.

It would be the first time that the state has intervened to finance the transport of those who choose schools outside their neighborhood.

“We are so limited in the options available to help children,” said state board chair Angelika Schroeder. “That’s hopefully another option.”

Most districts do not provide transportation for students enrolling in schools other than those in their neighborhood. And state law prohibits school districts from offering transportation across district boundaries without the consent of the losing district. A previous Republican-led effort to change the law failed.

Other entities, such as public transportation systems or publicly paid private companies, would not face this ban.

The first option relies on a plan already written into state law that has never been funded or deployed. He calls for the state to provide “tokens,” though it’s unclear whether this will directly pay families with K-8 students enrolled in underperforming schools, reimbursing them, giving them bus passes or whatever. Draft rules introduced Friday would limit eligibility to students enrolled in schools with the two lowest state ratings — priority improvement and turnaround — located in a district that also has one of the two lowest ratings. for more than five consecutive years.

According to department staff, only three elementary schools in Adams 14 would meet these criteria.

The department is expected to scramble to find a legislator to introduce and help pass statutory changes allowing the program to be funded with ESSR relief funds before the end of the legislative session scheduled for May 11.

Due to several existing laws, students would likely be limited to public transport at first, although private transport may be added later.

For the second option, the department plans to create a grant program so that districts, nonprofits, or other private transportation providers can directly apply for funding to transport students to schools of their choice. The state may be able to expand eligibility by making it available to high schools or beyond the three eligible Adams 14 elementary schools under the criteria mentioned in the first option.

Department staff pointed out that while they are interested in providing transportation for Adams 14 students, a grant option means anyone in the state could apply for money to start offering rides. , and if Adams 14 doesn’t want to apply, the state would have to wait until someone else in the area, like a nonprofit or the regional transportation system, wants to do so.

Lisa Escárcega, the only council member who voted against exploring both options, said a similar program had existed in the past under federal rules requiring districts to provide transportation within their district if a family wished. send their children to better schools.

“The federal government dropped that requirement because analysis showed it didn’t end up benefiting or changing the student experience or improving outcomes, or anything,” Escárcega said. “We had parents who took us on this … but ultimately many districts had no parents who wanted to take them on this. They do not want their children to cross the district.

Adams 14 officials did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The State Council plans to continue discussing grant options at its regular meeting in May.

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at [email protected].