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League Sends Letter to Biden Campaign (081120)

Wednesday, August 12, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Peter Mason
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PDF of Letter

August 11, 2020

Dear Vice President Biden,

We are writing to express our concerns with the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force draft platform recommendations. While you have surely received a number of letters about the platform recommendations, we want to make sure you hear from Colorado, where 128,000 students and families will be adversely affected by some of the omissions and proposed requirements in the public education recommendations, specifically pertaining to charter schools.

The voices of more than 3.3 million children and their families, teachers, school leaders, and communities in U.S. charter schools were not represented at the table when the Task Force’s recommendations were created for public education. Charter schools across the country are overwhelmingly – and proudly – meeting the needs of traditionally underserved communities, including Black, Latinx, and lower income students. Students just like those in Denver,  Colorado Springs, and Grand Junction. Over your public service career, you have prioritized the needs of all the nation’s children and you have demonstrated that federal policies should address the needs of all of our students, schools and communities.  Ensuring all the advocates  that work for students are represented  at the table can only help you meet their varied needs.

As charter families were not at the table when the recommendations were being formed, we feel it is important to point out the glaring omissions and concerns. We have four major concerns.

First, in Colorado, more than 128,000 students’ families chose charter schools as the public school option that best fits their needs. Yet, the list of “multiple public school pathways to access the opportunities students deserve” did not include charter schools. As 14% of the public school students in Colorado attend charter schools, it is important to correct this oversight.

Second, Colorado’s charter school law was signed in 1994, and since that time, we’ve grown from just two schools in our first year to 262 today. Families choose public charter schools (all nonprofits in Colorado) because they believe they are the best pathway to success for their children. The Task Force appears to be making it more difficult for choice to exist. Every child deserves an opportunity to succeed and we cannot remove or discount any public schools that can provide that.

Third, it is concerning to suggest federal funding for charter schools might be contingent upon review by a school district. While we all do our best to work together in Colorado, some of the state’s school districts still see charter schools as primarily as financial competitors rather than a fundamental and needed part of the ecosystem of public education. Giving school districts  further control over how schools receive federal funding is an inherent conflict of interest. Funds do not belong to districts, they are public funds that belong to the children who need to be educated.

And finally, as suggested in the Task Force recommendations, increased federal regulation of charter schools would override local control. Charter schools are already overwhelmingly held to a higher standard than their district counterparts. Unlike district schools, if a charter school fails to produce academic results or has financial/organizational challenges, it can be shuttered by its authorizer. In Colorado, all charter schools are required to undergo  an annual independent audit. Each charter is approved by its authorizer (state or district), operates conditionally, and is approved at the end of each term. We are accustomed to and welcome accountability. However, adding a layer above an existing authorizer is unnecessary and counterproductive to educating underserved populations.

The makeup of the Task Force itself does not reflect the diversity of viewpoints shared by Coloradans. In fact, the success of The Colorado Way depends upon painstaking conversation and compromise among those with whom you don’t always agree. In politics that usually means the other party, but it is always about finding common ground, and opportunities to seek win-win solutions. Unfortunately, this Task Force excluded essential voices that needed to be heard – namely, those of charter school parents and families. We represent the voices of tens of thousands of students who are part of the charter school community in Colorado, which taken together would be the largest single school district in the state. We may not always agree, but if we are not all at the table, how can true communication and trust be built?

Our charter schools are making great strides for the children they serve in Colorado, even during a pandemic. If Colorado’s charter schools were their own state, they would be #1 in 4th grade math and #2 in 4th & 8th grade reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (https://twitter.com/ReadyColo/status/1191410125493243904)

Charter schools across the country are positively impacting all children – our voice is important. Please take our concerns into consideration and update the recommendations to ensure the 3.3 million students, their families, their teachers, their school leaders, and their boards nationwide are included in the conversation. We are always willing to sit down at the table to find common ground and compromise, just like you’ve done in Delaware and we do here in Colorado.

Sincerely,

Dan Schaller, President
Colorado League of Charter Schools
On behalf of the Senior Staff and the Board of Directors