A charter school is a public school that is operated under separate accountability rules than a traditional neighborhood school. Charters are usually begun and operated by parent, teacher and/or community groups who have a particular vision for the education they would like to see their children receive. Colorado law allows these groups to charter, or to enter into a contract, usually with a school district, to realize this vision. The forward-thinking Colorado General Assembly noted that charters could act as a vehicle for public schools to provide more innovation in education. The result has been schools of choice for parents and children, where the community has far more flexibility and control.
Getting a charter approved by a school district is a very thorough process for those who apply. The school district and the applicant should work together to ensure that not only are all statutory requirements met, but also that a good working relationship is established. In DCSD’s case, we want to ensure that any new charter school is a success. Our highly qualified and experienced staff, as well as our strong community of charters, can help new applicants have the best outcomes possible. Note that private schools or non-public homeschool organization cannot apply for a charter. For-profit organizations such as education management organizations are prohibited from entering into any Colorado public school charter contracts. They may, however, contract with charter governing boards to provide educational services. The charter remains in the hands of the not-for-profit board running the school.
Although a family must apply to a charter school, charters are tuition-free and cannot discriminate against anyone who wishes to enroll, nor can they establish “test-in” requirements. Charters can and do serve many different demographics, including students who are disabled or have special needs, students who are low-income, students who are low performers and students of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Colorado law does not place a cap on the number of charter schools in the state. Any group can come to its district of choice at any time with a charter application. Districts cannot refuse to hear applicants, or place a moratorium on hearing applications. DCSD is committed to offering choices to meet parent demand; we work with charter applicants to build successful schools. Any charter applicant who believes their application was rejected unfairly can appeal to the state Board of Education, and many groups have prevailed there over local school districts.
Charter schools have a fair amount of autonomy, but remain accountable in numerous ways. The charter made with the school district authorizer is a binding contract, and the school is required to adhere to it. The school, overseen by the governing board, is accountable most importantly to parents and students. Charter schools receive increased scrutiny and must renew their charter every few years. Students take state assessment exams, and the results by school are made public for purposes of additional accountability.
For more resources, see the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) charter school website, and Colorado Charters, a blog run by the Charter School Solutions group.
Still to come in my charter school series:
- Charter school funding
- Accreditation and teachers
- Charter information in DCSD and statewide
- Additional resources from the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado League of Charter Schools