My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


So This Is Where This Is Going

Charter School advocates, buckle up.

According to today's Denver Post, Sen. Sue Windels (D-Arvada) and Rep. Michael Merriweather (D-Manitou Springs) are sponsoring a bill to eliiminate the state board's ability to sanction charter schools in districts which refuse to approve them.

Last year, two Denver Democrats sponsored legislation to create a state institute to authorize charter schools in districts where school boards refused to open any more. The main goal of Rep. Terrance Carroll and state Sen. Peter Groff was to encourage more charter schools to open and help at-risk students.

State Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, said Wednesday that the bill unfairly punished districts who didn't break any laws by passing moratoriums on charter schools. She has introduced a bill that would allow them to keep the authority to sanction charter schools instead of giving up that power to the state institute.

I suppose Windels could make the case credibly that moratoriums aren't illegal; that, however, does not address whether it is either wise or within the spirit of the law to have such moratoriums. And that certainly does not explain this:

Windels' bill, which is co-sponsored by state Rep. Michael Merrifield, would also let local districts limit both the enrollment at charter schools and how many charters can be in an area in the district.

Not only do we want to dismantle the State Charter Institute so that districts can arbitrarily decide to refuse every charter application, but then the districts can impose limitations on geographical considerations, AND impose enrollment limitations.

Obviously, enrollment limitations are intended to protect the revenue stream headed to regular schools. The geographical limitations create the same sort of thing--it is akin to saying to Arvada that there can only be two charter schools in the city, and their enrollment is capped at 800. So all you regular schools out there can plan to only lose, at most, "x" amount of kids--and revenue--to charter schools.

Oddly, not all Democrats agree.

However, [Rep. Terrence] Carroll said the new bill would give school districts free rein to restrict charters and puts the interests of school districts ahead of those of parents and teachers.

"It's a backdoor attempt to completely undo charter schools in the state. If they want to do that, why don't they just come out and do it upfront?" he said.
The obvious answer is that the incremental erosion of freedoms are harder to notice than quantum removals, and so they happen without anybody raising the alarm. This has been part and parcel of the liberal playbook for the last 70 years.

And in there is the crux of the debate--this bill puts the interests of the school districts ahead of those of parents and teachers, though I would revise that to say "parents and students". The average public school teacher is as opposed to charter schools as they are to vouchers. So this sounds like a good move for a former teacher to make--you don't suppose she gets a lot of her support from unions, do you?

Look, I've blogged this topic before: charter schools are not a silver bullet cure for everything that ails the public schools. And charter schools do end up draining resources out of the general district acouunts (charters get 95% of the state's per-pupil allocation; it costs districts more than 5% per pupil to maintain facilities and programs et cet.). But in as much as charter schools are making a sincere effort at reforming education and exploring ways to o things better, I see them as a very good thing. In fact, if districts were smart, they would get a few of these going on their own to use as laboratory schools.

But for a couple legislators who are in the hip pockets of the unions to start pushing to dismantle the Colorado charter school program, while calling it a push for "fair and equitable" schooling, is both obvious and disingenuous. I would hope that the slim GOP minority can beat this down with the help of the Dems who have split on this issue.

But, more importantly, keep an eye on this space--if you think this is the first retrograde the Dems are going to try in these two years, you'd be sadly mistaken.

ASIDE: Of course, this could all be a moot point, if this lawsuit in Boulder goes for the district. The only way I can see for the district to win this case is if the judge finds that the Charter Institute violates the "Local Control" provision of the Colorado Constitution; and remember, it was that very finding that got the voucher experiment thrown out two years ago.

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