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Bill introduced would make wide-ranging changes to Colorado charter schools

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Joe Mueller

(The Center Square) – A bill introduced in the Colorado House would make wide-ranging financial and administrative changes to charter schools in the state and was criticized by education choice supporters.

Currently, Colorado law provides for a charter school and a school district to negotiate funding. It also allows the school district to retain the amount of the charter school’s per student share of administrative overhead costs for services provided to the charter school. The amount of revenue for each student enrolled in a charter school is capped at 5 percent.

House Bill 24-1363, entitled, “Charter Schools Accountability; Concerning measures to address charter school accountability,” is sponsored by three Democrats: Representatives Lorena Garcia and Tammy Story and Senator Lisa Cutter. The 55-page bill would repeal the 5 percent cap and allow the school district to retain the cost of any services for charter school students, including costs that aren’t currently reimbursable for special education services.

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Two advocacy groups that support school choice said in a joint statement the legislation would mark “the beginning of the end of charter schools in Colorado.”

“Colorado was one of the national pioneers of the charter school movement, and for decades there has been a bipartisan consensus – under Democratic and Republican governors – that charter schools benefit families across our state,” Kristi Burton Brown, executive vice president of Advance Colorado, said in a statement. “This bill contains the greatest hits of every extreme measure proposed for years to kneecap charter schools and the families who choose them for their kids.“

Jesse Mallory, Colorado director of American for Prosperity, emphasized 15 percent of the state’s public school students attend a charter school.

“Instead of empowering Colorado parents and students with more choices for a tailored education, this bill seeks to take options away from families,” Mallory said in a statement. “This misguided legislation ought to be dead on arrival.”

Current law allows charter schools to use school district facilities without paying rent if the buildings aren’t being used. Independent charter schools also aren’t required to pay more than $12 rent per year for a public school building that’s “subject to conversion.” The proposed legislation would repeal those allowances.

“We’ve known this was coming for several months,” Dan Schaller, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, said in an interview with The Center Square. “But what’s surprising is the fact that charter schools have existed in Colorado for 30 years. Why are we rehashing all of this after we have had so many debates?”

The bill also would stop requiring school districts to prepare and provide upon request a list of vacant or underused buildings and land to charter schools, charter school applicants or other interested persons. It also would prohibit a charter school or applicant from applying to use district buildings or land.

Schaller also noted changes to the law affecting procedural matters involving charter schools, school districts and the state board of education.

“Those are technical in nature, but they would have far-reaching impacts if they were allowed to pass,” Schaller said.