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Colorado Charter Schools Have Earned Bipartisan Support

Wednesday, November 14, 2018  
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by Ben Lindquist

President of the Colorado League of Charter Schools

 

Let’s reflect back on the political season that just passed us by. It doesn't take a deluge of 30-second political ads to know that Colorado gubernatorial candidates U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and State Treasurer Walker Stapleton to see that the candidates don't agree on much. Whether it is tax policy, transportation funding, healthcare, Second Amendment issues or the environment, the differences between the candidates ranged from significant to enormous.

 

However, there is one important area where the candidates agreed – support for our state’s charter schools. While Mr. Polis and Mr. Stapleton have very different political philosophies, their agreement on charter schools is grounded in a common appreciation for innovation and rewarding success.

 

Governor-elect Polis is a successful entrepreneur who used that business experience to found and lead several nonprofit charter schools for at-risk children. He has described how that charter-school experience helped him see first-hand how important innovation is for improving public education and how an entrepreneurial approach can help solve many of the pressing problems facing our public schools.


Mr. Stapleton also has been a successful business leader, and he values charter schools because of the results they have achieved for our state’s children. He has been vocal on the campaign trail that charter schools provide a low-cost, high-quality education that serves a more diverse student body than traditional public schools.

 

Both Mr. Polis and Mr. Stapleton recognize that Colorado charter schools have been remarkable success stories that have increased the educational achievements of hundreds of thousands of students in our state. Colorado has one of the strongest charter school environments in the country, in large part due to state laws that ensure that charter schools are treated equitably to traditional schools, while also giving them the freedom and flexibility to deliver results in innovative ways.

 

Despite the success of our state’s charter school movement, there continue to be basic misconceptions about what it means to be a charter school. Many parents are surprised to learn that charter schools are public schools that cannot charge tuition. Colorado law requires them to be nonreligious. They cannot screen students as part of their admission process.

 

Additionally, charter schools are responsible for meeting the same performance accountability standards as traditional schools. They operate according to a performance contract with either their local school district or the Colorado Charter School Institute, which identifies the performance standards the school must meet. If a charter school does not meet its performance goals, the contract can be terminated. The fact is that traditional public schools do not operate with such rigorous accountability standards.

 

Charter schools are governed by the same Public School Financial Transparency Act as every school district in our state. That act requires charter schools to disclose detailed financial information online for public access and review, which ensures full transparency and accountability for all activities.

 

Most importantly, Colorado’s charter schools have demonstrated that they are delivering impressive results for our students. On average, charter schools in our state serve a student population that is more ethnically and economically diverse than our traditional schools, yet they outperform state averages in both reading and math by nearly five percentage points.  

 

Colorado has one of the nation’s strongest charter school sectors, characterized by transparency, accountability and strong performance. It is not a surprise that political, business and education leaders of both parties – including both our gubernatorial candidates – have recognized this success and have embraced charter schools as an innovative way to meet the educational challenges facing our state. While I’m glad that the election is over and wish Governor Polis success, the race served to demonstrate that despite our partisan politics we can agree on the importance and efficacy of charter schools in Colorado.

 

Ben Lindquist is president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, which represents the interests of Colorado’s 255 charter schools and their 120,000 students.



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