Last month I wrote about the Boulder Valley School District lawsuit against the Charter School Institute law when an appeals court ruled in favor of CSI. I've just read the entire decision and can't remember ever being so entertained by a court decision.
I'm going to quote (italicized font) the decision and make comment. To put it into context, the decision has numerous quotes from the 1999 Booth case. At issue in the Booth case was the contention that the State Board ordering a school district to open a charter school after a second appeal, violated local control. "Local control" refers to the Colorado Constitution provision that the local school district has control over instruction. In the Colorado Supreme Court's decision on Booth, the justices stated that since the State Board had general supervisory authority over education in Colorado, ordering a district to negotiate a charter school contract did not violate local control.
The Charter School Institute Act, part 5 of the Charter Schools Act [CRS 22-30.5] was adopted by the General Assembly in 2004. The law allows school districts that have demonstrated they meet "good authorizer standards" to get exclusive chartering authority and therefore not have CSI charter schools within their geographical boundaries.
The first year BVSD requested exclusive chartering authority, they were denied on a tied vote (the State Board was an eight member board at the time). The following year BVSD was granted exclusive chartering authority when then-State Board member, Jared Polis, reversed his vote from the previous year.
One of the "good authorizer standards" is that a district cannot reject a charter school application. BVSD refused to accept the Flagstaff Academy application and then it was subsequently heard in the St.Vrain Valley School District where it was approved.
1. The court determined that the lawsuit wasn't moot because even though BVSD currently has exclusive chartering authority, it could lose it if it were successfully challenged in front of the State Board.
2. The CSI Act doesn't prohibit any district from considering a charter school application. If the district doesn't have exclusive chartering authority, the charter applicants can apply both to the district and CSI simultaneously, if they choose. BVSD currently has no state charter schools within its boundaries.
3. The "standard of review" in this case was that the Colo. Legislature has authority to enact laws governing school districts like this unless BVSD could prove "beyond a reasonable doubt that it was unconstitutional."
4. The court recognized the rights, and needs, of parents and students to attend a quality school and noted that if students were enrolled at a school, that demonstrated demand.
5. The opinion states, "Unless the allocation of authority by the legislature clearly impedes the capacity of the local school district to exercise its authority or clearly exceeds the authority of the State Board, we must presume the allocation is valid."
6. "Part 5 does not grant the State Board the power to order local school districts to take action; it does not require them to affirmatively approve, open or manage institute charter schools." The opinion went on to say the state didn't "usurp" school district authority. In other words, if the district wants to fairly consider a charter school application, there's no need for the CSI Act to kick in. The district can have complete control over education within its boundaries, UNLESS it mistreats its charter schools, refuses to consider a new charter school application, or fails to meet other standards.
7. "Moreover, Part 5 contains checks and balances against the exercise of power by the State Board...local boards can seek, and if specified prerequisites are met, the State Board must grant, exclusive authority to charter schools in their districts." The Act requires the State Board to grant exclusive chartering authority and in the 2008 session, the Act was amended to give districts the authority for an indefinite term. This eliminated the need for a district to annually request the grant of exclusive chartering authority from the State Board.
8. "Part 5 addresses perceived defects in the school system on a statewide basis. It provides for improvements by setting uniform standards for how school districts must treat charter school applicants to maintain their exclusive chartering authority." The impetus for the CSI Act in 2004 was the refusal of the Steamboat Springs School District to open a Montessori charter school that had won two appeals to the State Board; it violated an order of the State Board, which is one of the "good authorizer" standards.
9. "We see no reason...to prohibit the State from creating a school system with different types of schools, some controlled by school districts while others are not. Indeed, the State has already done so by creating the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, which is a state-funded and -controlled public school, not under the control or authority of any school district. " The CSI Act states the institute shall be a Type I agency, which means it is a separate subdivision of the CO Dept of Education. This is the same statutory language used for the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.
10. "In evaluating whether a local board's authority had been usurped, Booth expressly upholds the authority of the State Board to make the final determination whether the charter school application is in the 'best interests of the pupils, school district or community.' As characterized by Booth, 'the State Board is authorized to substitute its judgment for that of a local board." Plain and simple: a higher court has already determined the State has this type of authority.
11. Briefing documents by BVSD apparently referenced the Owens v. Colorado Congress of Parents, Teachers and Students (Colorado PTA) voucher decision because this CSI opinion clarified that the "local control" issue was different in this case. The voucher law lost before the Colorado Supreme Court in 2004 with the primary issue being the use of local taxpayer-generated funds who then paid those funds to nonpublic schools. CSI schools are paid directly from state education funds and no local funds are used.
Of the three judges hearing this case, Judge Richman wrote the decision with concurrence from Judge Dailey and partial concurrence from Judge Criswell. Judge Criswell wrote the dissent for the portions he disagreed with.
It should be noted that only two school districts in the state don't have exclusive chartering authority even after having requested it at least once. These districts are Poudre and Westminster 50. Both districts have requested exclusive chartering authority from the State Board this year, however.