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Adams 14 receives a richly deserved comeuppance

Kudos to the Colorado State Board of Education for cutting through convoluted legal arguments Thursday and voting to revoke the Adams 14 School District’s exclusive authority to approve charter schools within its boundaries.

While examining the nuances of complex matters is what every thinking person should do, occasionally there are issues that are so clear-cut that nuance becomes almost irrelevant. This is one of them. 

Adams 14 richly deserved the rebuke the state board delivered on a bipartisan 5-4 vote. At issue was the University Prep charter school network’s protracted battle with Adams 14’s board to open a public charter elementary school in that troubled district. 

The school board approved a UPrep charter school in December of 2021, only to vote down a contract 10 months later. What’s most surprising is that the board voted to approve the charter in the first place, given that the district has exhibited an overt hostility to charters for many years.

UPrep runs two high-performing Denver charters, and was responding to urgent pleas from Commerce City parents to open a campus there. Given the district’s dismal record and low academic performance, one might assume that the board would have welcomed UPrep into the community.

But the district has stalled and created obstacles every step of the way, even resisting two previous state board orders to negotiate with UPrep.

“They are here for relief because they have no other option before this board,” State Board Chair Rebecca McClellan, a Centennial Democrat, said during Thursday’s deliberations, adding that there was a clear pattern of obstructive behavior by the Adams 14 board. It was more than a little surprising that four of her colleagues failed to see the pattern.

Under current law, It is too easy in Colorado for a school district to receive exclusive chartering authority, and far too difficult to lose it. Just four small, rural districts, the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, and the Fort Morgan district lacked exclusive chartering authority. Until Thursday, that is.

This fight almost certainly isn’t over, and will likely move to the courts. Meanwhile, UPrep must now apply to the Charter School Institute for a charter to open its Commerce City school. It should receive a more reasonable and favorable hearing there.

While all the procedural wheels turn, another school year will pass without a UPrep school in Commerce City, Hundreds of Commerce City parents will continue to be deprived of a strong educational option for their children.

Somewhere along the line, the Adams 14 board and administration lost sight of their mission, which is providing the children of their district with the best possible public education. Instead, they became fixated on turf battles and maintaining control over where Commerce City children attend school.

The children of Commerce City deserve better, and eventually, if today’s decision holds, they should get it.