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Anti-charter-school bill is ludicrous in its overreach

Photo of lock and chain shuttering a warehouse-like background

A new bill introduced earlier this month in the Colorado legislature represents a flagrant assault on the state’s public charter schools, apparently driven more by reflexive anti-charter fervor than any legitimate concerns about the schools’ overall performance.

House Bill 24-1363, sponsored by Representative Lorena Garcia, Representative Tammy Story, and Senator Lisa Cutter, aims to undermine some of the most foundational aspects of public charter schools. If it were to become law, the bill would severely undermine parents’ right to choose a school that best fits their children’s needs. 

Under current law, public charter schools are already subject to rigorous accountability, transparency, and financial standards. HB24-1363 disrupts well-functioning systems and creates a division between nonreligious, nonprofit, public charter schools and traditionally managed schools rather than improving public education.

The bill is guilty of such laughable overreach that it seems all but certain to die in committee. But no one should rest easy until and unless this actually occurs.

By mandating stringent requirements on charter school governance and operations, the bill casts a long shadow over the autonomy and flexibility that have been hallmarks of the charter school movement. At the heart of this issue is not just a legislative overreach but a fundamental misunderstanding of what charter schools represent and how they have succeeded, especially during challenging times.

The bill would strip charter schools of the freedom to design their own educator performance evaluation systems and gain automatic waivers from certain state statutes and State Board of Education rules. 

It would also remove a crucial portion of the appeals process that allows the State Board of Education to overrule egregious local school board denials of charter school applications or renewals.

In short, HB 24-1363 would impose a one-size-fits-all solution that undermines the unique governance models that have contributed to the success of many charter schools. 

Moreover, the repeal of the requirement for school districts to prepare a list of vacant or underused buildings, the added layers of bureaucracy in charter school application and renewal processes, and the enhanced financial burdens placed on charter schools through the repeal of the 5% cap on per-pupil revenue retention by districts are particularly concerning. 

These measures collectively undermine charter schools’ very essence: innovation, flexibility, and accountability to the communities they serve.

Like all entities, public and private, charter schools are imperfect, and there is room for improvement in authorizing, governance, and performance. But the same can be said of school districts and the schools they operate. Yet no one is introducing legislation that would essentially destroy school districts. 

Multiple studies have shown that Colorado charter schools perform well in the aggregate compared to their district-run peers. A November 2022 report published by the nonpartisan Keystone Policy Center highlighted the strong performance of Colorado’s charter schools during the pandemic. 

Unlike their traditional public school counterparts, charter schools in Colorado have shown resilience and adaptability, achieving higher rates of literacy and math proficiency among their students. 

This success is especially pronounced among charter schools serving low-income families. The Keystone Report notes that these institutions have effectively kept some of the state’s most vulnerable students on academic pace during COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, new data from Aurora Public Schools shows that fewer than 10 percent of Black and Hispanic sixth-graders are reading at grade level. Why aren’t seeing outraged statements or draconian legislation on this disaster from Representatives Garcia, Story, and Cutter? 

HB 24-1363, with its heavy-handed approach to charter school regulation, threatens to stifle the innovation and progress that charter schools in Colorado have made. Instead of imposing burdensome requirements that undermine charter schools’ autonomy, why don’t policymakers focus on fostering an environment that encourages innovation and flexibility across all public schools? 

It’s imperative to recognize that charter school success, especially during challenging times like the pandemic, offers valuable lessons in educational resilience and effectiveness. 

This most recent, thinly disguised effort to destroy charter schools in Colorado is misguided and divisive. It represents the kind of ideological overreach that is all too common these days on both sides of the political aisle.