When is a public charter school in the community’s interest? Community can mean different things to different people of course, but generally NACSA believes that engaging community and gauging community needs to develop effective public charter schools and education policy should look like:
- local organizations and community groups partnering with the public charter school
- clear enrollment demand
- unique school models that community has requested
If a legislative bill introduced in Colorado were enacted, none of these things would matter there.
Colorado House Bill 1295 would have created a “rebuttable presumption.” School boards would have been able to deny a petition for a new public charter school or to renew or expand an existing charter school if they felt that it was “in the best interests of the pupils, school district, and community.” Three factors would have been allowed for consideration:
- if the petition conflicted with the district’s long-term plans,
- if the petition impacted student enrollment in the district, or
- if the petition impacted the district’s financial situation.
If the school board determined that a charter school petition met any of the above “criteria,” then the assumption would be that the community’s interest was not being served.
The only way to overturn this assumption on appeal, would be to show that the district’s denial was not actually based on one of those three considerations.
Thankfully, HB1295 failed to advance out of committee, but it deserves scrutiny. It is misguided education policy.
Community involvement in public charter school authorizing is vital, and NACSA has been highlighting how charter school authorizers around the country are doing so in innovative ways. As we have seen and learned, community involvement can happen many ways in different places. But one thing it is not is when the district, and only the district, can define what is in the community interest.
Though HB1295 failed to advance, it shares some unfortunate similarities to AB1505 enacted in California in 2019, a bill that reduced what was in the “community interest,” when it comes to charter schools, to how the district is impacted. These bills warn of a worrying legislative trend of cutting the community out of evaluating community interest.
Colorado’s charter school law includes a legislative declaration that includes the following: “in authorizing charter schools, it is the intent of the general assembly to create legitimate avenues for parents, teachers, and community members to implement new and innovative methods of educating children…” [emphasis added] Bills like HB1295 in Colorado and AB1505 in California undermine this intention, and leave communities on the sideline.
Jason Zwara analyzes and develops charter authorizing policies as part of NACSA’s policy team. He is responsible for tracking state and federal charter school legislation and developing policy resources for members and advocacy partners. Have policy questions? Please reach out! Jason can be reached at [email protected]