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Colo. Lawmakers Mandate Open Enrollment Within Districts

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The Colorado legislature has adopted a school-choice measure making the state only the second in the nation to mandate open enrollment within districts.

The measure would allow parents to send their children to any school within a district, so long as there was space available and the move would not disrupt a desegregation plan.

The measure also authorizes a pilot test of cross-district open enrollment in three districts.

Ohio is the only other state to mandate intradistrict open enrollment, according to Joe Nathan, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and an expert on the school-choice movement.

While hailing the bill, Mr. Nathan said it was only a first step toward the educational changes forseen by choice advocates. "The critical question now is, 'Are there going to be different kinds of schools from which parents can choose?"' he said.

Under existing law, Colorado districts already have the option of allowing open enrollment. Some districts, such as Jefferson County in suburban Denver, have already adopted the concept.

The "schools of choice" bill was adopted as an amendment to a school-finance measure on May 8, one day before lawmakers adjourned their 1990 session.

The choice proposal had passed the House as a separate bill, which subsequently died in the Senate.

Under the legislation, parents would be required to provide transportation for their children to attend a school other than the one to which they would normally be assigned.

The bill also bars transferring students from participating in interscholastic athletics for one semester.

Three Years in the Making

Colorado lawmakers have considered open-enrollment measures in each of the past three years.

Two years ago, they defeated a proposal that would have allowed parents to send their children to any public school in the state, while last year a plan for optional intra- and cross-district open enrollment went down to defeat.

"I think they found this one so much more palatable than the two others," said Representative Jeanne Faatz, a Denver Republican and sponsor of the bill.

Under the pilot test for interdistrict choice, three districts will receive a total of $775,000 to experiment with open-enrollment programs that take in students from other districts.

One district each will be selected from the Denver area, the "Western Slope" of the Rocky Mountains, and the state's eastern plains.

Commissioner of Education William T. Randall said he was pleased that the bill calls for a limited test of interdistrict choice, rather than mandating the concept statewide.

"Interdistrict choice has a place, but I like the way we are doing it," he said. "I'm not sure parents always do it for the right programmatic reasons."

The school-finance measure will provide as much as $81 million in new money for schools each year for five years by coupling property-tax relief with a shift in the school budget year.

Under the plan, schools would shift to a fiscal year matching the state's, July to June, by having a six-month fiscal transition period in the first half of 1992. During that time, districts would rely on local property taxes to fund their schools, while the state invested approximately $300 million that otherwise would have gone to districts.

That fund, along with accumulated interest, would then be used to increase the state share of funding and lower property taxes over the next five years. (See Education Week, May 2, 1990.)

Other education measures passed by the legislature included:

  • A much-debated student-press bill to forbid censorship of student publications and require school officials to establish ethics codes for student journalists.

The measure was watered down in conference, however, by the addition of an amendment that gives supervisory control of school publications to the faculty adviser.

  • Repeal of the state's teacher-tenure law, replacing it with a new statute that makes it easier for school districts to dismiss teachers who perform poorly. (See Education Week, April 25, 1990.)
  • An alternative-certification bill that allows those experienced in other fields to teach under the supervision of a master teacher.

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