The General Assembly passed the Charter School Institute Act in 2004 after almost a decade of varied attempts to get an "alternative authorizer" in Colorado. Almost immediately the number of new charter schools jumped from the low single digits to 12-15 annually. Having an authorizer in addition to the local school district raised Colorado's statute rank to a "B" as rated by the Center for Education Reform [http://www.edreform.com/index.cfm?fuseAction=section&pSectionID=15&cSectionID=98].
In the first year of the Charter School Institute two new charter schools were approved. The next year five more were approved. The CSI Board takes to heart the statutory mission to serve high-risk student populations.
During the phase when the Institute Board was creating policies, a Request for Applications and determining their application process, they relied heavily upon the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). NACSA is a collection center for best practices for charter school authorizers. They have an online resource library and hold an annual conference.
CSI has some practices that are key to good authorizing:
1. The Board has an interview with the charter school developers where the Board asks questions and the charter applicants respond in writing.
2. The CSI Request for Applications is comprehensive and garners the type of information Board members need to make good decisions. For example, management companies must provide an audited annual financial statement, references from other schools they operate and the last two management contracts they executed.
3. The CSI Board believes that after the charter school is authorized, monitoring and oversight should only be 20% of the Institute's role. The process to get approved is very rigorous, but then the charter school should operate with autonomy.
4. The CSI Board has developed a reputation for being tough, but fair. Their standards are very high. They won't accept mediocrity from their schools.
This year I nominated the Charter School Institute for the Colorado League of Charter School's Charter School Friend Award. This award is given annually to a charter school authorizer. Institute Board members worked countless, volunteer hours to create a quality authorizing process. They have varied backgrounds, beliefs and expertise, but all agree on the rights of parents to select a school for their child that best suits their needs. Since 2004 they've had some strident discussions. I believe this diversity of opinions has shaped a strong system. They deserve the 2007 Charter Friend Award for Authorizers!