2015 School Choice Series: Mountain States

Noodle’s 2015 series provides a state-by-state overview of school choice options. In this article, you'll find descriptions of the available options in each of the Mountain states, relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research.

Whether you’re an advocate or a critic of school choice, it only directly affects you if it’s an option where you live.

Noodle has put together a state-by-state overview of school choice options in 2015. You can find descriptions of the available options — such as charter schools and voucher programs — relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research. This article focuses on the Mountain states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. You can also follow this link to learn more about what school choice is.

School Choice in Arizona

Arizona is one of the nation's leaders in school choice because it offers so many options. Proponents argue that because Arizona has turned its school system into a thriving marketplace of options, its students receive a much more diverse and vibrant education.

The state has a strong charter school system that serves more than 180,000 students across 600 schools throughout the state.

Arizona also has a robust private school choice program with options that include scholarships, tax credits, and educational savings accounts. There are many School Tuition Organizations, with multiple options for receiving assistance. You can find more specific information on Arizona's three tax credit programs — the Individual Tuition Tax Credit Program, the Corporate Tuition Tax Credit Program, and Lexie’s Law for Disabled and Displaced students — at the Arizona School Choice Trust. Vouchers were ruled unconstitutional in Arizona in 2009, but the state's Supreme Court just allowed Arizona's Educational Savings Account program to stand.

The Arizona Online Instruction program has a wealth of information about the available online education offerings in the state.

Arizona has limited open enrollment both within and beyond a student's home district. Space at the receiving school and other eligibility requirements may, however, present an issue.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Colorado

Colorado has a thriving school choice system that promises to grow even further in the future. The state has an open enrollment policy, so students can transfer to schools both within and beyond their home districts. There are, however, many reasons why a transfer may be denied, including lack of space or facilities to meet a given student's needs.

There is currently one private school choice option, in the form of vouchers. That program may expand significantly in the future. In a new case before the Colorado Supreme Court, an impending decision could prove to be a landmark for the school choice movement in that state and elsewhere. The outcome could mean that not only will vouchers continue, but that income limits will be lifted. As a result, vouchers could become available to any student, even those from affluent families and neighborhoods.

Colorado offers online education through a variety of full-time and part-time schools, many of which are available to students regardless of their location. Here is a comprehensive list of online school options.

A Special Case: Denver

Denver is a city with a large school choice system and many charter schools. As in many cities with thriving charter programs, many issues influence enrollment. Two primary issues in Denver include getting into a top-school choice and finding available transportation. Often, transportation becomes a parent's responsibility, as Denver charter schools are not required to provide transportation. The enrollment system in Denver is complex and may be difficult for parents to navigate, though administrators hope that recent improvements will ease the process.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Idaho

School choice in Idaho is somewhat limited. The state has more than 40 charter schools and an open enrollment policy that allows both interdistrict and intradistrict transfers.

It also has seven full-time virtual charter schools and multiple options for supplemental online classes.

At present, Idaho does not have a private school choice option, but lawmakers and citizens recently held a rally seeking broader school choice options across the state. Advocates contend that the state could benefit from the types of private school vouchers and tax credits that exist elsewhere. As of yet, however, there are no plans to implement any.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Montana

Montana often places last in rankings of school choice. The state does not have a law for charter schools or for private school choice programs. Pundits believe, however, that both options will be debated in the state legislature in the coming years. As is the case elsewhere, the state has advocates on both sides of the issue. Recent efforts to install school choice options have been vetoed.

The state does offer open enrollment for both interdistrict and intradistrict transfers.

Montana also has an online education program through the Montana Digital Academy. This program provides supplemental coursework to students throughout the state. Some individual districts offer their own supplemental programs, but there are no fully-online virtual schools.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Nevada

Nevada's school choice options are limited. Supporters of the school reform movement recently rallied at the state Capitol, and politicians expect related legislation to be on the agenda in 2015.

The state does allow transfers, both within and beyond students’ home districts, through open enrollment policies.

Currently, Nevada does not allow for a private school choice option, and its charter system is small, with just over 30 schools.

There are 11 online charter schools, in addition to 15 programs that operate out of individual districts.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in New Mexico

New Mexico offers open enrollment, allowing transfers both within and beyond a student’s home district. Schools are also required to accept transfers from "failing" schools if they have the space and resources.

In addition, New Mexico offers more than 80 charter schools throughout the state. Advocates of school choice expect tax credits for private school tuition to be on the legislative agenda in the coming term.

New Mexico does not have a private school choice program.

The state does, however, offer online education through Ideal New Mexico, in addition to local district programs and a few online charters.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Utah

Utah has a strong school choice system. Advocates note its scholarship for disabled children and equitable charter school laws as support for the state’s high ranking for school choice options.

The state recently enacted laws loosening the requirements for its open enrollment policy; the state’s policy allows students to transfer both within and beyond their home districts.

Utah currently offers vouchers for private school tuition. The state also allows funding to special needs students through the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program.

The state has a robust online education program through the Utah Electronic High School, in addition to several statewide virtual charter schools, including Utah Virtual Academy, Mountain Heights Academy, and Alianza Academy. Students can also find supplemental online courses in local district programs.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Wyoming

At present, Wyoming has extremely limited school choice options.

Wyoming's open enrollment policy allows only for intradistrict transfers. Transfers require an application, and there are caps on acceptances. Currently, Wyoming does not have a private school choice option in effect.

Wyoming has just four charter schools. The state does allow both full-time and part-time online education through the Wyoming Switchboard Network for grades K–12.

Resources for Further Research

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