March 15, 2024

Mike DeGuire: Stealth attempt at ensuring ‘transparency’ for Colorado charter school authorizers

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In Colorado, there’s a move afoot to disguise a charter expansion bill as a charter transparency bill. Mike DeGuire has the story, published at Colorado Newsline. 

Colorado Sens. James Coleman and Paul Lundeen are sponsoring a charter schools bill that pretends to provide “transparency” on charters. However, upon a closer read, this bill is not about transparency for charter schools, but instead it seems to be designed to monitor the decisions that local school boards make regarding charter schools. Under the guise of transparency, the bill would establish a new complicated reporting requirement for local school districts to provide information on charter school data to the state Department of Education.

Senate Bill 24-88 is titled “Entity Authorizes Charter Schools Transparency: Concerning reporting additional information related to the entity that authorizes charter schools in the annual charter school report.” According to the legislative declaration, this bill is intended to ensure that all 179 Colorado districts are providing “high-quality charter school authorization practices” to “establish a high-functioning charter school sector which elevates all kindergarten through twelfth grade education in Colorado.”

The bill has two sections — one for school districts that have authorized charter schools or which the state charter school institute has authorized in their district, and another section for those districts that do not have charter schools. In 2004, the Legislature created the Colorado Charter School Institute to “provide an alternative mode of authorizing charter schools as a means to assist school districts in utilizing best practices for chartering schools and to approve and oversee charter schools in school districts not desiring to do so themselves.”

Among the many new requirements, local school districts with charters will be required to provide detailed data on all charter school applications received in the last five years, the status of those applications, and an explanation for the decisions regarding the charter applications. The law would also require districts that do not have charters to document the same information, including permissions for applications that were requested in the last 10 years, and provide a summary of the resolution for the application or the permission to request. School districts would need to verify all expenditures and bond support for their charter schools, and if they used a centralized enrollment system. And non-charter districts would have to identify numbers of students who were in charters outside their district.

SB-88 uses similar language as the model charter school bills that ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, develops and provides to its members and encourages legislators to pass in their states. Common Cause describes ALEC as “a corporate lobbying group that brings together corporate lobbyists and politicians to draft and vote — as equals and behind closed doors — on ‘model bills’ that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line. These model bills, drafted without public input, are then introduced in state legislatures across the country, usually with ALEC’s involvement concealed.”

ALEC’s education policy states that the “current monopolistic and expensive K-12 education system is failing our students, leaving them unprepared for college, careers, or life.” Instead of funding the system, they recommend “innovative, parent-empowering choices such as charter schools, voucher programs, tax credit scholarships, homeschool, and education savings accounts.”

In other words, dismantle the public system and replace it with alternatives.

Why do the two bill sponsors feel it is necessary to “establish a high functioning charter schools’ sector” in Colorado? Perhaps the answer lies in the motivations and connections that the two legislators have with the charter school industry and organizations that support its expansion.

Senator Lundeen has been a dues paying member of ALEC, he was honored by the Charter School Alliance group as one of their heroes in 2023, and as a frequent critic of the current public education system, he supports vouchers or education saving accounts.

James Coleman is employed by Faith Bridge, an organization that is funded by the Walton Family foundation, and City Fund, two organizations that support expanding charter schools. He also serves on the board of Highline Academy, a local charter school in Denver.

This proposed bill does not require any information on charter school activities or operations. In accordance with ALEC’s philosophy, the bill seems designed to make sure that all 179 school districts are authorizing charter schools as needed and providing those charter schools with adequate support to ensure their success. It looks like an attempt to lay the groundwork for the expansion of charter schools in areas of the state where there has been less need or desire for them.

This “strategic” bill is an unnecessary data-gathering exercise that questions the practices of local districts to make sound, fair, community-based decisions on governance models for their students.

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