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Opinion: “Mean-spirited” legislation targets Colorado’s charter schools

Charter schools have been an effective and popular option for hundreds of thousands of Colorado families, including many Black and Latino families. Precisely because they are successful, accountable, and cost-effective competition for conventional public schools, charter schools are the target of mean-spirited legislation that ultimately aims to put them out of business.

Competition in a free society is challenging. That’s true in business, in life – and in

For decades, there has been a strong, bipartisan consensus in our state that educational choice is positive and constructive. Whether Democrats or Republicans have been in the governor’s office or the House and Senate majority, laws have been passed year after year to strengthen available options for families.

And throughout those decades, the success of this system of choice has had the status quo public education groups seething. They don’t like that charter schools empower parents and teachers and provide an option to escape substandard conventional schools. These groups particularly don’t like it that charters are held directly accountable for results.

Those floating in a sea of unaccountable mediocrity fear the competition charters provide. And they are calling in every favor at the Capitol to erase that competition.

Here’s why.

Charter schools custom-design their own curricula, discipline policies, innovative teaching methods and more. These innovations can be very attractive to families looking for a better option for their children Charter schools are more transparent and accountable than traditional public schools. Many educators love the freedom they get as part of a charter school faculty.

As a result of all this, and more, charter schools not only are popular, but they are also performing well.

According to statistics from the Colorado League of Charter Schools, 134,000 kids – or 15% of public-school students — are choosing charter public schools. This population is more diverse than the conventional public school population, with 51% being students of color, and 21% being English language learners.

On national assessment tests, a Harvard analysis ranked Colorado’s charter school population is second best in the entire country.

While charter schools should be the focus of a statewide celebration as an educational success story, they instead are targeted for legislative elimination. House Bill 1363 is a brazen bill that contains a laundry list of anti-charter measures designed to make the schools unreasonably difficult to launch, needlessly challenging to expand and unfairly difficult to be renewed.

The bill is a harassment vehicle for teacher unions and other establishment groups to hamper new and existing charter schools. For example, if a charter is rejected by a local district, the school can appeal to the state, and in about half the cases, the charter is granted. This is a reasonable protection against an arbitrary and biased process within a local school district.

The anti-charter bill would eliminate that basic fairness protection.

Another provision erases the ability of charters to expand cost-effectively. Public bodies, including school districts, often have underutilized or vacant properties. At the same time, many charter schools are growing, and they often have more students who want to attend than their buildings can accommodate.

Current law not only allows charter schools to use excess capacity in school districts, including vacant buildings, it requires school districts to make charter schools aware of these properties. The anti-charter bill would no longer require districts to provide this information and would preclude charters from using district facilities.

These are just two of the numerous anti-charter poison pills in the legislation. Taken together, the bill is educational malpractice and fiscally irresponsible.

The good news is that Gov. Polis, like other Democratic Colorado governors, is a supporter of Colorado’s public choice system, including our system of charter schools. He is also a proud charter school founder. Charter parents and educators across the state, especially in communities of color, are hopeful that he is ready to uncap his veto pen if this extreme, measure reaches his desk.

It is deeply disappointing that legislators who speak often about the need for greater diversity and equity across Colorado have launched this effort to close an effective and valued path to quality education options for diverse communities. This extreme measure, which puts special interests above the interests of kids, families and communities, should be solidly defeated.

Stephanie Hancock represents Ward 4 on the Aurora City Council.

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