More is coming out about the problems at Challenges, Choices and Images Charter School in the Montbello area of Denver.
Today's editorial in the Denver Post said: "Denver's school board put the school on probation in February over poor academic performance. The district ought to thoroughly investigate the school, including additional allegations of financial troubles, with an eye toward closing it or
getting someone else to run it."
Where should authorizers draw the line on when a charter school's contract is revoked or not renewed? When should a charter school be closed?
I think pretty much everyone can agree that if charter schools are operating with conflicts of interest, mismanaging funds, or the students are in any danger, the charter should be revoked. Almost all the charter schools that have closed are due to financial reasons. Just a small percentage close due to the lack of academic achievement. But when is the best decision for the students to do a major shake-up instead of closure?
Authorizers wrestle with these decisions and have probably erred on both sides because it's a judgment call and some authorizers have more patience than others. To make sure that the decision isn't disputed or appealed, it's wise for authorizers to walk a recalcitrant charter school through a "noncompliance policy." Basically, this means there are a series of well-documented steps where the charter school is given adequate time to remedy and if they don't, the school eventually closes.
It's almost impossible for a school that's failing academically to turn around within a year or two. But there are other measures that can document a change in the right direction such as the attendance rate or the number of credits students earn. Charter schools with financial issues should undergo a professional audit and the findings in the management letter will provide evidence to the authorizer about what should be done to resolve the problem.
Unless there are student safety issues or concerns about illegal activity, the authorizer is best to leave the responsibility for improvement with the charter board. The authorizer isn't responsible to fix problems, only to hold a firm standard of expectations. If the charter school fails to make necessary improvements, the authorizer is justified in closing the school.
The Colorado Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-110(3)] outlines four specific reasons a charter can be revoked:
a) a material breach of the charter contract;
b) failed to make reasonable progress toward school goals;
c) failed to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management; or
d) violated any provision of law that the charter school was not specifically exempt from.