Roughly half of the African-American population of Colorado lives within three miles of the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in Northeast Denver and neighboring Aurora. Knight Fundamental's student body is more than 80% African-American and is about 85% low income.
The story linked above from the Rocky Mountain News chronicles, at a personal level, the process by which the Denver Public Schools have resegregated. School choice options like Knight Fundamental were invented primarily as a way to desegregate Denver's schools, but now, the school choice program as a whole, has the opposite effect. Students who are in the minority ethnically in their local school are the students who are most likely to "choice out" of their neighborhood school, despite the increased travel time that another school necessitates.
Amy Duclos lives closer to Knight but has a student at Cory. She would prefer a more diverse school than Cory, she said, but "we wanted our kids to go to school with other neighborhood kids."
"There isn't a single neighborhood kid at Knight," she added.
Knight Fundamental made a promising start as a high achieving magnet school in 1982. But it slowly lost support, first from Belcaro neighborhood families, in the late 1990s, and then from middle class black families, in the 2000s. This has transformed the school into a low achieving school, both in absolute terms and in student progress terms. The long bus rides that almost all of its students must make to school each day have made Knight Fundamental unattractive in a post-desegregation order era, in which neighborhood schools have become the norm. Its location also hinders easy parental involvement.
Neighbors of the existing Knight Fundamental school location are interested in replacing Knight Fundamental with a neighborhood school that has a Montessori focus, a bit like West Washington Park's Lincoln Elementary School. The need, they argue, is shown by high demand for Cory Elementary in South Belcaro, which also has a popular gifted and talented program as part of its offerings.
The story also reflects a positive trend in Denver, however.
When Knight Fundamental was opened, the collapse of Denver's then oil driven economy had plunged the city to probably its lowest point economically since the Great Depression. One of the reasons for locating Knight Fundamental in Belcaro in the first place was to offer it minority students a safe place to learn as a respite from one of Denver's less affluent neighborhoods.
Since 1982, Denver economy has diversified and its real estate prices have steadily surged, almost across the board. Many neighborhoods have undergone wholesale gentrification. Few cities have seen more infill development than Denver.
There was a bump in the road as the subprime loan crisis hit Colorado earlier than most of the rest of the nation and kept real estate appreciation flat at first and ultimately put a modest crimp in real estate prices. And, Denver hasn't been completely spared by the financial crisis. Still, despite the worst recession to hit the United States since the Great Depression, Northeast Denver is healthier economically, and has less crime, than it was in 1982. So parents in Northeast Denver can feel better about sending their children to neighborhood schools.