2024 Leg Session, Education, Featured, Uncategorized

Benigno: Opponents of educational choice target charter schools

One of the most, if not the most, reprehensible anti-charter bills ever introduced in Colorado, House Bill 24-1363, was soundly killed in the House Education Committee. Five Democrats and all three Republicans voted against the bill, while three Democrats voted in support.

This 55-page bill contained provisions aimed to weaken or even eliminate Colorado’s more than 260 charter schools, which are autonomous public schools. Both bill sponsors stated the bill was not about closing charter schools but about accountability and transparency. While listening to the hearing, one had to wonder if they read their own bill or understood Colorado charter school law.

If the bill was adopted, it would have granted a public school district with declining enrollment the power to revoke a charter school’s charter. This is a significant concern, considering declining enrollment is a prevalent trend in Colorado and nationwide. Almost a third of all charter schools are in districts with declining enrollment, potentially putting them at risk.

The legislation would have removed the second charter appeal to the Colorado Board of Education, leaving the final decision to school districts if new charter schools open or if they renew current school contracts. In 1993, Gov. Roy Romer (D) said during the House and Senate conference committee he was pleased the committee preserved the state Board’s authority to override local school board decisions on charter school establishment.

Interestingly, the bill sponsors seemed unaware of what is already legally required of charter schools. One sponsor claimed charter schools don’t have accountability committees, despite being legally required to have one. Another provision in the legislation mandated charter schools post their state law waivers on their website, a requirement that already exists. Furthermore, one of the sponsors incorrectly claimed charter schools are not obligated to be financially transparent, a statement that simply is not true.

HB 1363 wasn’t the first significant assault on charter schools and won’t be the last. The initiators of this bill, which appear to be primarily former anti-charter school legislators, are steadfast in their mission to eradicate charter schools as a viable public-school alternative to traditional public schools. This fervor may stem from the fact Colorado’s charter schools are not unionized, and teachers are not mandated to hold a state-approved teaching license. In 2007, one of these former legislators wrote to another, “There must be a special place in hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers and Voucherizers. They deserve it!”

There is a divide between Democrats who don’t support charter schools and those who do. Charter schools are public schools that must meet academic standards and administer state assessments. The socialist Democrats and the old Union Guard take a different view on public school choice than many other Democrats.

When the Colorado charter school legislation passed in 1993, it was a testament to bipartisan cooperation. Then-Republican Sen. Bill Owens and the late Democratic Rep. Peggy Kerns sponsored the bill. Democratic Gov. Romer supported the legislation and deserves significant credit for its passage. He understood school districts wouldn’t like the idea of charter schools, but he knew the public education system needed reform, and creating autonomous public schools was a worthy risk.

Independence Institute’s co-founder, the late David D’Evelyn, was also crucial in passing the charter legislation. David was passionate about providing families with more educational choices and offered the intellectual ammunition to support policy changes. Independence Institute continues David’s unwavering commitment to public charter schools and parental choice.

Charter school supporters must remain on guard, strengthen the troops and stay alert because this war will never end. Parents must realize the fragility of school options and keep that in mind whenever they sit down to mark their ballots.

Pam Benigno is the director of Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center. She co-authored “On the Road of Innovation: Colorado’s Charter School Law Turns 20.”


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