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Two applicants seek state money for Adams 14 student transportation

A young girl looks out the window of a car as early morning light outlines her face.

Through a grant program, Colorado is looking to pay for transportation for Adams 14 students who enroll in higher-performing schools.

Lauren Miller for Chalkbeat

A charter school group and a pair of nonprofit organizations submitted applications to the state’s new grant program for transportation of Adams 14 students who choose to leave low-performing schools.

The charter school’s plan would transport students to its own charter and the nonprofit groups’ plan would take students to Denver schools.

The Colorado State Board of Education asked the department to look into ways the state could pay for transportation in order to remove one barrier for Adams 14 students who want to enroll elsewhere at a higher-performing school. 

The state Department of Education is reviewing the two applications and will announce awards by July 1.  

The Adams 14 school district is the only one identified as chronically low performing by the state’s rating system, and is the only one the state grant will target. Adams 14 has received the state’s lowest ratings since 2010. Neither previous district-run nor state-ordered improvement plans have improved its rating so far.

The state this year directed the district to begin reorganizing — a process that could eventually lead to neighboring districts absorbing parts of Adams 14, though leaders of those districts have stated they support the district’s autonomy and its own improvement plans. 

In the meantime, the state wants the district to start its own improvement plan and wants to help students who choose to attend other schools.

The Adams 14 district has long had many students attend schools in nearby districts. Charter schools and Mapleton Public Schools have at times marketed specifically to attract Adams 14 students. In the past school year, Adams 14 enrolled about 6,100 students, and lost about 3,000 students who live in the district to other schools.

Details of what the support would look like have been limited, however, the grant applications provide some insight.

The charter school application is from the leaders of Victory Prep and Community Leadership Academy, long-standing partner charter schools located in the Adams 14 boundaries. 

The schools are authorized under the Charter School Institute, although leaders recently asked Adams 14 to authorize them instead, but were denied. 

Under their application, the charter school would use the money to pay for up to six traditional school bus routes through Adams 14, aiming to cover the transportation cost of about 50 eligible students. The application requests a little more than $100,000 each of the two years.

The other application was submitted by RootEd and Transform Education Now, two nonprofits that have supported charter schools. Transform Education Now has worked with Adams 14 parents for several years. That application seeks a little more than $3 million dollars over the two years, to pay for rides for students in the low-performing Adams 14 schools who want to go to a school in Denver. 

The nonprofit groups would use the third party, HopSkipDrive, and estimates they would pay for daily rides for 150 students the first year and 250 students the second year. Their budget request estimates more than $5,000 cost per student, significantly higher than the state’s cost estimate of between $1,200 and $2,800 per student.

Both applications describe how they will market to students in Adams 14 over the next few months to make families aware of the option. The nonprofit groups also plan to help families navigate choice enrollment by identifying where open spots are available in higher-performing Denver schools and creating a guide highlighting options available with academic data for the schools. 

The state has allocated about $3 million from the state’s ESSER COVID relief dollars to fund the transportation grants for two years. If the program is successful, state board members said they may consider finding other sources to keep it going in the future. 

Read the grant applications in full.

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

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