Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Charter Schools in Colorado for the Fall of 2009

The list of newly-approved charter schools is ever-changing, but according to my records, here are the schools that will open this fall:

1. Animas High School in Durango (CSI): approved last year, but delayed opening
2. KIPP High School-Denver (DPS): an extension for the successful KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy, a 5-8 charter school
3. Envision (DPS): one of the Get Smart schools project
4. W Denver Prep #2 (DPS): a replication of the successful W Denver Prep
5. Edison (DPS): operated by the Edison Learning company
6. Thomas MacLaren (CSI): a classical education high school replicating the Trinity School
7. Justice High School-Denver (DPS): a replication of the successfu Justice HS in Boulder
8. Cesar Chavez Academy-Denver (DPS): another replication of the successful Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo; K-8
9. St. Vrain Montessori (SVVSD): a Montessori school beginning with the primary grades and growing through middle school
10. Westgate (Adams 12): a K-8 school for gifted and talented students, including those with special needs
11. Atlas Prep (Harrison 2): a college-prep middle school

Imagine at Fountain Meadows (Falcon) was approved, but now will delay opening a year due to slowed growth in the new subdivision where it is planned to open.
Foundations Academy (Brighton) was approved, but looks like it'll delay a year.
Provost Academy was just approved by CSI, but its opening year is not finally determined yet.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Record Number of Charter Applications Expected in Denver

A record 21 charter school applicants have submitted a Letter of Intent to Submit an Application to Denver Public Schools. In addition, another 11 applications are expected for "performance schools," which I'm assuming includes contract and innovation schools.

Back when the Charter Schools Act was first adopted, DPS had the reputation as being "the last frontier" for charter schools. At that time, DPS denied all applications and litigated the Booth case right up to the state Supreme Court. Claudia Booth was an African American educator who wanted to start a middle school in northwest Denver. Although her name has become well-known in the charter school community, Ms. Booth never got her school.

To date, DPS has more charter schools than any other district in the state. Although the percentage of charter school students to noncharter public school students (the "saturation rate") isn't even in the high range, DPS has developed a well-respected reputation for being a fair and reasonable charter school authorizer.

DPS has a partnership with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which provides them with an onsite staff member for a year. NACSA has helped DPS develop several materials, including their Request for Applications which is the foundation for the application process the district is currently conducting. Applications are due to DPS next Monday.

In addition to some of the expected applications, there are a few brand new applicants including a Russian language school, a K-6 school proposed by a church and a medical charter school. Schools submitting proposals this month will anticipate opening in the fall of 2010.

Colorado Charters on Twitter

If you're using Twitter, my username is: cocharters

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What's the Future for CSI Charter Schools?

There are already sixteen Charter School Institute schools operating and more being approved. Just a couple of weeks ago, Provost Academy, was approved. What's the future for these schools while the BVSD lawsuit now is appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court?

CSI schools have been in limbo finding it nearly impossible to identify financing for their facilities through normal avenues while some wonder what will happen with the lawsuit. It's unclear what would happen to CSI schools if the courts were to declare CSI unconstitutional. It's anybody's guess if the schools would try to get chartered by the district in which they reside or simply close. Tens of thousands Colorado public school students now attend CSI schools.

Common sense says that after two lower courts have determined the CSI law is constitutional, surely the Colorado Supreme Court would agree. However, the Supreme Court has been known to make decisions contrary to other well-established and experienced legal minds.

Some have criticized BVSD for even continuing this lawsuit. But the law firm, Caplan and Earnest, LLC, said they'd continue the suit on a pro-bono basis. This firm represents many of the large Colorado school districts in addition to many smaller districts.

Until the lawsuit is finally determined at the Colorado Supreme Court, the CSI charter schools will continue to operate in limbo.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More on the BVSD v. CSI Lawsuit

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.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Appeals Court Rules School Board Must Cite Specific Reason for Executive Session

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the Steamboat Springs School District Board of Education violated the Open Meetings law when it didn't announce what specific topic they'd be discussing in executive session. The Open Meetings law also applies to charter school governing boards.

Further, the court determined that discussing salary survey results was not a "personnel" issue and therefore not relevant to calling an executive session. In the decision the court ordered the school district to release minutes from the executive session, without information redacted. Boards are required to audio-record executive sessions and keep the tapes and any minutes for 90 days. If a party legally attempts to get the recording or minutes, the evidence must be kept until completion of the court proceedings.

State law requires every executive session to note specifially what will be discussed. More detailed information is available on the CDE website in a memo written by an attorney for numerous charter schools.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mixed Results in Charter School Study

A RAND Corporation study of charter schools in eight states shows mixed results for academic performance and college entrance rates. Denver was included in the study.

This makes sense because the diversity amongst public charter schools is a hallmark of the charter school movement. For example, in Colorado there are charter schools serving adjudicated youth, pregnant and parenting teens and those that can take only students who have officially dropped out of (more than 30 days without attending) the public education system. Conversely, there are charter schools focused on preparing students for a rigorous, four-year college education.

The study did show that charter schools that have been in operation longer tend to do better. Again, this is common sense because the first year of a charter school the principal is also focused on making sure someone is available to fix toilets, the cash flow is sufficient for school needs and teachers have the resources they need each day.

Oftentimes charter schools hire young or inexperienced teachers because they can better afford an entry-level salary. It takes awhile for a new school's staff to learn how to work effectively and productively together and learn the charter school's unique vision and mission.

Probably the greatest difficulty in a new charter school is the tight budget. In addition to regular operating costs, a new charter school must equip the school with desks, textbooks, white boards, computers and all of the other necessary equipment required to run a school. Moreover, these schools operate with less per student funding from the state because they also finance their facilities with the per student amount.

The RAND study had difficulty gaining academic information from most elementary schools because Kindergarten base line data wasn't available. The results for middle school and high school-aged charter school students were mixed. This is probably related to the wide variety of educational programs offered at those levels. Elementary schools tend to be more similar in design.

The findings in this study closely relate to the findings of the 2005 State Evaluation of Charter Schools, which found that in grades 3-8 charter schools tended to outperform their non-charter public school counterparts, while the inverse was true for high school CSAP scores. The nature of the educational program was likely a significant factor in these outcomes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cesar Chavez Academy Network Expanding to Denver

The latest trend in charter schools is replicating successful models that have already demonstrated success. Cesar Chavez Academy started in Pueblo in 2000 and almost immediately topped their authorizing school district, Pueblo 60 City Schools, in CSAP scores.

The Cesar Chavez Academy Network of Schools added Dolores Huerta Preparatory High School to continue the K-8's educational model. Then they added to K-8's in Colorado Springs and an online high school, GOAL Academy.

Now the Network will open a K-8 in Denver. In fact, this new charter school will take over the reently-constructed building built for Denver Arts and Technology Academy (DATA). DATA's board voted to close their charter school at the end of this school year due to financial issues developed with their management company, Mosaica Education, Inc.

Several Denver charter schools are replicating, including Denver School of Science and Technology, West Denver Prep, and Denver Venture. In addition, KIPP is expanding to both high school and elementary school to complement their existing 5-8 grade program.

Authorizers tend to view a replication more favorably than a brand new charter school application primarily because they're familiar with the educational program design and have confidence in the school leaders to pull off the vision of the school. Across the nation, replicating charter schools are becoming more predominant.

Info for Parents from the Feds

I didn't see the entire broadcast because I just found it when I was flipping through the channels, but there's a new US Dept of Education broadcast on public charters schools. Guests are Nelson Smith, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Greg Richmond, National Alliance for Charter School Authorizers.

This would be a good link to share with parents of students enrolled in charter schools because it highlights the success of charter schools in the post-Katrina areas of New Orleans and other successful charter schools throughout the country.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Innovation Schools Get Unanimous Support from State Board of Education

Today the State Board of Education voted unanimously to support the Denver Public Schools' Innovation Schools Act application, which permits Manual High School and Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment to operate with waiver from state laws and district policies. Included in the package are waiver from 40 state laws, 32 district policies and 18 pieces of the collective bargaining agreement.

State Board Vice-Chair Randy DeHoff commended DPS for learning from their charter schools. Charter schools operate via waiver from state laws and district policies.

DPS has received 21 charter school applications this year. They already have more charter schools than any other district in the state. Several of the applications are for replication of existing campuses or from a network of charter schools that have already demonstrated success in the district.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Charter Bonds Bill Neutered to Move Forward

SB 176 was heavily amended on Thursday in order to get it out of the Senate Education Committee. The bill went from being a "shall" bill to a "may" bill. Essentially, other than making a statement in statute, the bill would have little, if any, effect for charter schools seeking assistance with their capital construction costs. Charter schools spend anywhere from 10 to 30% of their per pupil operating revenue for capital construction. School districts have access to taxpayer-generated bond revenue that charter schools do not.

Sen. Peter Groff noted during the hearing on the bill that charter school students comprise more than 7% of the state's public school population and yet receive less than 2% of bond revenues. Further data supporting inequity in charter school capital funding is in the Colorado League of Charter Schools' "Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Colorado Charter Schools."

The bill now goes to the floor of the Senate for second reading.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Dr. Florian Hild, Principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, entered into a discussion on the Core Knowledge blog about the importance of teaching content. This was in response to a post about Mr. Ken Kay's (Partnership for 21st Century Skills) statement that both skills and content should be taught, but the predominance of the importance of teaching skills in documents supporting this statement.

Dr. Hild's comment to the blog posting (scroll down, it's at the bottom) emphasizes the notion that there is a foundation of knowledge in our society, a Core Knowledge principle. He contends that although we may live in a different time and culture, there are still lessons to be learned from historical figures who have already lived and learned lessons pertinent to today.

The goal to prepare students with academic and character excellence is timeless, according to Hild.
The ability to outmaneuver others on one’s Blackberry, though, will ultimately not provide a lasting competitive advantage, not to speak of a happy and good life. If we are afraid of the challenges of a new century, I’d say that the best way to prepare us for them is to face them standing on the shoulders of giants. Then even gigantic problems can be confronted and dealt with.

Ridgeview Classical Schools, a top-performing high school by many accounts, uses a classical approach to education. Dr. Florian Hild was a teacher at Ridgeview until last fall when he became the Principal. Clearly the success of Ridgeview can at least predominantly, be contributed to Dr. Terrence Moore (the school's first Principal) and Dr. Florian Hild's understanding of the school's vision and mission. Dr. Moore was a prolific writer about the tenets of a classical education. Dr. Hild, it seems, is equally well-versed in what the school intends to accomplish with its students and why school founders selected this approach.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Charter School Business Manager's Meeting

Business managers from across Colorado gathered in Colorado Springs on Friday for their regular every-other-month meeting. How to budget for next year and what was happening at the Legislature were the hot topics discussed.

Here are some of the things that were said at the meeting:

* Schools should have 75 days of cash on hand (plus their TABOR reserve).
* When the state makes a rescission on a per student basis this spring, it'll be the third time since 1966 that this has happened. It's currently projected that the rescission will be about $40 per student out of 2008-09 per student funds.
* The federal stimulus money can be spent over three years, although most states plan to use it in the first year.
* Schools that have diversified are in the strongest financial position (i.e. preschool programs, home school umbrella programs, etc.).
* Charter schools shouldn't think about giving raises for two years.
* Energy audits are not very expensive and the outcome may demonstrate something that can be done inexpensively and create significant savings.
* Watch for health insurance to increase 11 to 14% annually.
* Right now the amount designated for charter school capital construction (2008-09) is $6.5 million. This includes the $5 million base from Amendment 23 funds and $1.5 additional.
* Gov. Ritter recommended next year's (2009-10) charter school capital construction cut the base to $2.5 million. The Joint Budget Committee voted to keep it at $5 million for now.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Will any Federal Stimulus Funds Reach Colorado Charter Schools?

The federal stimulus money coming to Colorado's K-12 public education is primarily coming through Title I (high poverty schools) and IDEA (special education). This money will be distributed through normal channels, with additional paperwork and requirements. For example, only Title I schools will be eligible to receive more money, but they'll need to use the money to enhance their work with low-income students. These schools cannot use the money to supplant existing programs. They'll have to think of something "new" to use the funds for. My question is, "Wouldn't they already have tried that? What's left to try?"

The rest of the federal stimulus money will come into the state through the Governor's office. Governor Ritter will be able to determine how the money should be distributed. The law says that first priority should be to replace funds that were already cut in K-12 education. No one knows if the Governor will decide cuts to this year's charter school capital construction money is a cut that should be restored.

It's certain that deciding who will get these federal stimulus dollars will be a battle. Watch for union-controlled interests to fight against education reformers, such as the charter school community!

Update: Check out the National Alliance for Public Schools' updates on stimulus money.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Caps on Colorado Charter Schools Nonexistent

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Obama's call to eliminate a cap on the number of charter schools that some states have imposed will have no impact in Colorado because there is no limit.

The state's first charter schools opened in fall 1995, and there were 50 by 1997. This year, 151 charter schools are operating in the state, and the projection for next year is 160, said Denise Mund of the Schools of Choice unit for CDE.

Schools can be chartered through local districts or the state Charter School Institute. Mund said Colorado charters are flourishing and are known for having higher academic performance, which she credited to a strict approval process and a focus on quality.

Actually the first charter schools in Colorado started in 1993. Can't expect reporters to get all the details correct, right?

Colorado's charter school movement is the opposite of most states with charter schools, however. Our charter schools tend to outperform their non-charter school counterparts in grades 3-8 on the CSAP. Further, a higher proportion of charter schools receive an Excellent or High on the School Accountability Report.

Peak to Peak Buys Land from District

Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette bought almost 9 acres of land from the Boulder Valley School District in a deal that prevents the charter school from using the land to compete against the district.

The land sits north of the charter school's main parking lot and will be used for ball fields and housing a preschool, primarily for teacher's children. The charter school never intended to use the land for additional classroom space.

Peak to Peak is a college prep school serving grades K-12. Although it uses the Core Knowledge curriculum for grades K-8 it is primarily a standards-based school.

This Saturday, Peak to Peak is hosting the first Charter School Teacher Job Fair. For more information visit the school's website.

BVSD Votes to Challenge CSI at the State Supreme Court

Last night the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) Board of Education voted unanimously to take the question of the State Charter School Institute to the state Supreme Court. This after two lower courts have ruled in favor of the Institute.

Criticized for wasting taxpayer money, this time lawyers from Caplan and Earnest, LLC said they'd take the case pro bono and the district would only be responsible for actual costs.

The Boulder Daily Camera editorial on Sunday asked the school district to drop the lawsuit against the Charter School Institute. After a denial for a request for the grant of exclusive chartering authority from the State Board of Education in 2004, the BVSD board was subsequently granted sole authority in 2005. The district contends that an entity being able to grant charters within their geographical boundaries constitutes a violation of the local control provision of the State Constitution.

Justice Meyer, writing the decision for the Court of Appeals, stated:
Part 5 [the Charter School Institute Act] does not require the local school districts to accept or approve an institute charter school application; nor does it usurp the districts’ decision-making ability to implement the educational programs for which they are ultimately responsible, a potential constitutional infirmity.
During the year or so it will take for the Supreme Court to hear this case and render its decision, Institute charter schools continue to struggle with negotiating facility financing arrangements. Lenders are concerned that the lawsuit may shut down the Charter School Institute's schools and the risk is too high.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama Wants Charter School Caps Lifted

In his speech to the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this morning, President Obama said he wanted states to lift their charter schools caps. Some states have limited how many charters can be granted either on the state level or for individual authorizers such as universities or school districts.

When Colorado's Charter School Act passed in 1993 there was a cap of fifty schools. When the law's sunset provision was removed in 1998 the cap was also removed. At the time there were nearly fifty schools and the cap would have been hit, probably within a year.

Why are caps bad? Because it limits the amount of educational choice options available to families who want to use charter schools and it prevents the market from establishing schools based on demand.

The President also emphasized the need for charter schools to provide excellent educational programs and not settle for mediocrity. In the past five years many authorizers and policy makers have shifted their focus from quantity to quality. Early in the charter school movement, the push was to create new charter schools. After several schools failed or simply didn't provide adequate educational programs, policy makers shifted their focus to quality charter schools.

Do Education Laws Hamstring Reform?

A guest editorial by State Board of Education member, Elaine Gantz Berman, and Ann Marie, Executive Director of Common Good, highlights the need for common sense and less regulation in public education. The two use the recent situation where an Aurora high school ROTC student was suspended for having her drill weapon in her car on campus to highlight how well-meaning education laws can actually inhibit educators from achieving the intended consequence.

Last session, Senator Peter Groff passed a bill to allow public schools to become Innovation Schools whereby they would have greater flexibility. This is the "lite" version of a public charter school that operates with waiver from many state laws and regulations in exchange for improved results.

What's the key factor for why the "one-size-fits-all" approach to education doesn't work? Common sense. Common sense would say that not all children learn the same. Common sense would say that wooden drill rifle in a student's car should not be treated the same as possession of a deadly weapon with the intent to cause harm. In fact, common sense would even say that unique approaches to education needs would be the most efficient use of tax money and the most likely way to achieve student academic achievement.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

BVSD's Financing Lawsuit Against CSI Criticized

A new website, operated by the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, bashes the Boulder Valley School District for funding a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of the state Charter School Institute. CSI is Colorado's statewide charter school authorizer for select districts that haven't been granted exclusive chartering authority by the state Board of Education.

JA Basketball Star What it's all About

A freshman boys basketball player at Jefferson Academy Charter School reminded people why high school sports is an important aspect of being a teenager. Seth Senecaut is a 15-year old student with Klippel-Feil Syndrome, which is a spinal disorder and causes other abnormalities. Seth hadn't been able to play basketball most of the season due to illness. In his short lifetime, he's experienced 30 surgeries.

In the fourth quarter, Jefferson Academy was down by 20 points when Seth was put in. Seth dribbled to the Jefferson Academy goal, but was fouled with just 10 seconds on the clock. Everyone in the stands (fans of both teams) stood for Seth's free throw attempt. Cheers and shouts exploded when Seth hit nothing but net and added a point to the JA score.

JA's third team coach, Ron Naylor said that just getting out of bed and doing daily routines is a challenge for Seth each day. Seth just wanted to be one of the guys. During this basketball game, Seth Senecaut was "one of the guys" as he added another point to the books and taught many people the real value of the game.

Back to Blogging

Thanks for your patience the last two weeks. My mother passed away a week and a half ago after battling an agressive form of cancer for two years. Between spending some time with her when she was placed on Hospice care and then the last two weeks, I've only been home for a week and a half out of the last six weeks. Thanks to the guest bloggers who helped me out during the last two weeks because blogging was the furthest thing from my mind.

My Mom raised three children and had twelve grandchildren. She came from a hard-working Norwegian heritage that she was very proud of. She made attending her grandchildren's high school graduations a priority. Last year she attended three graduations within one week; quite a feat considering she was battling the negative effects of chemo at the time and had broken her hip a few months prior. She fought the cancer with almost continual chemo or radiation. Whenever she'd take a break, tumors would come back with a vengeance. On February 24th her suffering ended.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Charter School Budgeting: A Shot in the Dark

Like all public schools, charter schools must create their 2009-2010 school budget before the legislature decides how much funding will be available. Many charter school leaders are wondering how they can do this with the current financial constraints and the lack of timely information.

The March 13th Charter School Business Manager's meeting will include the most up-to-date information available and together Business Manager's will discuss what figures they intend to use for their budgets and why. Register today for this important meeting!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

SB 176 Charter School Participation in School District Bond Elections

Donnell Rosenberg, Charter School Mom

I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, February 26 in support of Senate Bill 176, CONCERNING CHARTER SCHOOL PARTICIPATION IN SCHOOL DISTRICT BOND ELECTIONS. Following is the testimony I provided:

When I listen to citizens debate politics and policy, I like to hear arguments based on fact, not emotion. As I was preparing my comments for you today, I intended to keep emotion out of my text. I realized, however, the difficulty of the task. I am not a teacher or a principal or a governing board member; I’m not a district official or a lawyer. I am a Mom. And this topic is a very personal one to me.

I have two children who attend a successful Douglas County charter school. I have been a very involved volunteer parent for the six and a half years since my oldest son began kindergarten. In the last two years I have become more involved as an advocate for charter schools and parental choice in education. In that capacity, I closely followed the negotiations between Douglas County School District and the charter schools regarding the mill levy and bond election for 2008. I attended many Board of Education meetings during the spring, summer, and early fall.

As I said, I am not a lawyer and I found this to be a complex issue as I followed the discussions. I cannot tell you today that I understand the issue fully, however I learned much and would like to speak briefly as a parent regarding a little of what I observed and learned over the course of several months.

I watched my school principal spend many hours negotiating for an equitable share of taxpayer funding for the charter schools. I asked him about the time he spent and he estimated close to 30 hours in preparation and meetings---I believe he is vastly underestimating the number of hours! I appreciated his leadership and effort on this issue; however, I feel his time would have been better spent directly benefitting the children in our charter school. It seems to me far too many hours were dedicated on the part of all involved---school administrators, governing board members, district administration, district board of education members, as well as interested parents, like myself.

Why do I say “far too many hours”? One of the things I learned is each district appears to interpret the existing law differently. Some Colorado school districts found a way to share bond dollars with charter schools, while others did not. In my district—I wonder—if they started with a desired end result and then looked for support through a legal decision, where other districts looked for a legal interpretation first and then found a way to support that interpretation.
It was frustrating to me, as a community member of such a high achieving school, to listen to district officials and board members, meeting after meeting, present arguments in opposition to equitable funding for charter schools. It seemed that our charter schools were continually on the defensive, when all we were asking for was an equitable share of taxpayer dollars.

I was further frustrated, personally, as a taxpayer. I was being asked to support a large tax increase to benefit the schools, with none of the bond dollars being dedicated to the school my children attend.

I believe this bill brings balance to the issue. It makes it easier for districts to say “yes” to the charters, yet leaves control at the local level. I urge you to support Senate Bill 176. In addition to bringing equitable funding to charters, it will allow our administrators to spend more time where they are needed---in the schools, directly supporting the education of our students.