Election Recap: What Does It Mean for Charters?
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Dan Schaller, VP of State and Local Policy
Q & A with Dan Schaller
Q. What does the election in Colorado mean overall?
A. With Democrats flipping one Congressional seat (Jason Crow in House District 6), taking over control of the State Senate (19-16), expanding their control of the State House (41-24), and retaining control of the Governor’s Mansion (Jared Polis), it was obviously a very big night for Democrats here in Colorado. I think most would attribute this Democratic success to the national political environment and a desire to send a strong message to the current federal administration.
While Democratic candidates overall had a big night in Colorado, statewide tax proposals did not, which was somewhat surprising. Normally, one might think one would go hand in hand with the other, but when initiatives such as Amendment 73 (increased education funding) and Proposition 110 (tax increase to support roads) go down by fairly significant margins, it signals to me that certain aspects of Colorado’s “purple heritage” are still very much alive and well.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge to the charter movement of having the trifecta (dems in gov, senate and house)?
A. Whenever you have a trifecta to one side or the other, it creates the opportunity for more extreme legislative proposals to gain traction because you don’t have the other party waiting in the opposite chamber to “kill” them. This creates the possibility that an extreme piece of anti-charter legislation could get started and then be more difficult to slow down than in years past. At the same time, however, the League and our partners have worked very hard in recent years to cultivate strong Democratic supporters of charter schools at the Capitol, and so I remain optimistic that we can still address the most extreme attempts to undercut public charter schools and what we stand for.
Q. What do the outcomes of various funding bills around the state mean to the willingness of taxpayers to fund education?
A. I think what the outcomes demonstrate is that taxpayers are far more willing to increase funding for education when it comes to their local schools than when they’re being asked to consider funding for schools statewide. While Amendment 73 failed, a number of local mill and bond issues all across the state – even in such places as Douglas County and Jefferson County, which have historically had some difficulty passing such measures – met with success.
At the same time that Amendment 73 failed, however, there is still reason for optimism when it comes to the near-term prospects for state-level funding for schools. Just last week, Governor Hickenlooper released his last budget proposal as governor, and in it he called for a 4.4 percent increase in per-pupil funding moving into the next school year (he also earmarked an additional $5 million for CSI equalization). While it's still ultimately up to the legislature to finalize the budget this spring, it represents an encouraging starting point for the conversation, particularly when you consider how much Governor-elect Polis made education funding a high priority of his platform.
Q. Speaking of Governor-elect Polis, what can charter schools expect from him as our next governor?
A. I think charter schools can expect Jared Polis to be a fair-minded and supportive governor when it comes to our issues. As a founder of two Colorado charter schools himself, he is well-versed on what it takes to create and maintain a charter school in Colorado, and he is closely familiar with the strengths we bring along with the challenges we face. We look forward to working with him in the weeks and months ahead to advance the collective interest of children all across our state.
Q. How does the national environment influence Colorado charter issues?
A. Frankly, the national environment and dialogue on charter schools doesn’t often help our case. The conflation of charter schools with other topics such as vouchers and tax credits does a disservice to a primary fact about charter schools, which is charter schools ARE public schools held accountable to their students, families and taxpayers. The rhetoric and tone of the national debate can distance us from making bipartisan progress.
Additionally, so much of what you might hear about charter schools in other states doesn’t apply here. We have the second strongest charter school law in the country because of its emphasis on transparency and accountability, and our charter schools are serving a student population that is just as (if not more) diverse than our state’s traditional public schools. The results tell a positive story, too. Colorado charter schools are getting solid outcomes, oftentimes for the students and families who need them the most. It would be great to see the Colorado charter school story begin to influence more of the national debate on the subject.
Q. What would you see as a win for the 2019 session?
A. Fortunately, we’ve been able to string together a solid streak of legislative advancements for charter schools in recent years. Hopefully we can continue to build on these successes by increasing funding for our schools in general, by taking additional steps to address remaining inequities that exist for charter schools in such areas as facilities and CSI funding, and by making sure that none of the autonomies that enable charter schools to be unique see any setbacks.