March 22, 2024

Trish Zornio: Can charter schools survive without more accountability? Not if Republicans have their way.

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Writing for the Colorado Sun, Trish Zornio notes that Colorado’s conservatives seem to be opposed to accountability for charter schools.

With our growing political and cultural echo chambers, it’s more critical than ever to teach our children how to interact well with those who think differently. Of course, achieving such an education is easier when schools are properly funded, with manageable class sizes, fairly paid and qualified educators and robust supplies, and this is where Colorado has failed. I suspect it’s part of the desire for school choice in the first place.

I also suspect it’s not the only reason, another being religion.

Before I explain why, it’s worth noting that the outsized opposition by Republicans to House Bill 1363 is proof of ulterior motives. By and large, the bill is fairly straightforward. It primarily seeks to increase local oversight of charter schools to ensure transparency and success. This is a stark change from current laws that can leave local leaders in a bind. Since when are Republicans against local control? Red flag number one.

This proposed change in accountability matters. While some charters might perform wonderfully — and I say might because the data are thin at best — others do not. At present, charters are held to different standards than mainstream public schools, even though they are both public and in part funded by tax dollars.

For example, some charters might have lower standards for teacher credentials or have automatic contract renewals without extensive review. Sometimes, that’s a good thing as it creates an easier path. But sometimes it’s not, and how are local boards supposed to decide if charters are shrouded in secrecy?

Well, they can’t, and that’s exactly how Republicans want to keep it.

The reasons not everyone wants to be accounted for might vary, but especially for those wanting to use the lax charter school rules to enhance their political and religious goals, an accountability bill is a landmine. Particularly if you want to hide your fundraising sources, how you recruit students and general ideology you seek to promote, yeah, the bill makes it tough. Which brings us to the Republican opposition.

It’s no secret that many on the political right have the ambition to create a Christian nation. Many of the right wing’s most prominent representatives now openly tote this agenda, including as related to public schools.

battle over religious education at the U.S. Supreme Court is already under way, with Republicans working to advance government-funded, religious private charter schools. In short, they see it as a door to how religion could become mainstream in public K-12 schools.

So the question I pose to Coloradans on the fence about House Bill 1363 is this: Do you support stronger accountability laws for charter schools now that you know Republicans are actively trying to use the currently weak accountability laws to facilitate publicly funded private religious schools?

Read the full op-ed here. 

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