The Road to Real School Choice, True Equity Is Still Too Steep

By Juana Sanchez

As the mother of three children of color who attend Denver Public Schools, I appreciate the district’s commitment to equity—raising the achievement of all students while “eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality” that causes achievement and opportunity gaps.

One way DPS tries to increase equity and close opportunity gaps is by providing a wide range of school choices to Denver families. Not all kids are alike, or learn in the same way. The more different kinds of schools are available, the better.

DPS is right to be proud of the variety of schools, district-run and charter, available to families. DPS has a national reputation as a leader in school choice, in district-run schools and charter schools.

But we must not overlook that access to the DPS choice system is limited for many families because of transportation. For thousands of families who have no way to get their children to a school that best suits them, participating in choice doesn’t change much. Without a citywide system of transportation to schools, choice will remain an option only for those privileged families where parents can drive their children to and from school, or arrange a carpool.

I am lucky: My husband and I own a business, which allows me to work from home and drive my children to and from school each day. But among the immigrant families I know, I am an exception.

My oldest daughter has attended Rocky Mountain Prep since third grade. RMP is a public charter school in southeast Denver. We have found a strong sense of community there among families, students, and staff. This has been a place where a rigorous education goes hand in hand with a loving and supportive environment for all.

My daughter has thrived there, and we wanted to find a middle school with a similar culture and values so that she can continue to learn and grow.

We chose DSST:Byers, which is not close to our home. It also isn’t our assigned neighborhood school, which means no transportation is provided. I will drive my daughter to and from school every day because my husband and I believe this is the best place for her.

But she has several friends who also are graduating from Rocky Mountain Prep and would like to attend DSST:Byers or other schools that aren’t their neighborhood schools. With the steadily increasing cost of living in Denver, many families in our community have no choice but for both parents to work. Many work more than one job, and a lot of these jobs have irregular and inflexible hours.

These families have no choice except to send their children a middle school close to home instead of the school they would choose. Real choice is an illusion for them.

The community that we have built at Rocky Mountain Prep is important to my family. I want to model for my daughter what it means to be a supportive part of that community. That’s why I have offered to drive two of my daughter’s friends to DSST-Byers next school year. Without a ride, these scholars would have to attend their neighborhood school instead of the school they feel fits them best.

I am happy to provide this service to my daughter’s friends. But what happens to the countless number of students throughout the city who do not have such an arrangement available to them?

Transportation is expensive for school districts and charter schools, and I understand that there are no easy solutions to this dilemma. In some parts of town, DPS runs Success Express school buses, which circulate among schools, including charters, so even low-income students can attend their school of choice.

If the Denver community cares about equity and the closing of opportunity gaps, then we must find a way to expand this kind of service, so that everyone can have access to the school choices that today are unavailable to thousands of children who need them most.


Juana Sanchez is the mother of three students at Rocky Mountain Prep Creekside, a public elementary charter school in Southeast Denver.

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