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Opinion: Durango voters show the power of putting students over politics

Bipartisanship may feel like a fairy tale in our hyper-politicized environment right now, but our neighbors in Durango showed in the November election that there is hope for a more functional future in Colorado. 

Nearly 72% of residents – a landslide by any standard – came together to approve Ballot Issue 4A, which means $90 million in new bonds for Durango schools.

While it is impressive that nearly three in four voters agreed on this issue, it is equally impressive how the school district’s Board of Education and superintendent sold the bond measure to voters. 

Dan Schaller

They sought to build the biggest coalition of supporters possible by including all of the district’s students, those at traditional public schools and those at public charter schools – including, notably, those attending charter schools authorized by the state’s Charter School Institute (CSI).

That may not seem remarkable to those who do not follow K-12 education politics closely, but it represents a divergence from the path that we often see statewide. 

Too often, public school families and students are pitted against each other by positioning public charter schools as the enemy of traditional public schools. In reality, they both have a role to play in creating a vibrant and strong public school ecosystem, whether on the Western Slope or the Front Range, or anywhere in between. 

By selecting the path it did, Durango became the first school district in our state’s history to include charter schools authorized by CSI in its local bond initiative. They deserve to be commended for this trailblazing decision, and it should serve as a model for the rest of our state.

Like district-run schools, charter schools in Colorado are public schools. Charter schools are accountable to their authorizer, usually their local school district. They are funded by public tax dollars and do not charge tuition. They are open to all students in the community and do not discriminate or use testing requirements to determine who they accept. 

More than 131,000 students statewide attend charter schools, which is nearly 15% of all students in our state.

Voters in Durango demonstrated the power of creating an inclusive environment that unites traditional public schools and public charter schools. By including charter schools in its ballot issue, the district won the support of charter school families that helped ensure its passage. It is a message to every district across the state that going into ballot measures cooperatively and collaboratively is a winning strategy.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Too often, we have seen school districts put politics above the families and students in their communities. We have seen school boards sabotage high-performing charter schools out of an allegiance to special interest groups. 

It is refreshing to see a school district stand up for all its students and take a stand for what is right. And it is even more refreshing to see the community rise up in a bipartisan manner, set politics aside and vote for what is in the community’s best long-term interest — quality education for students.

I doubt anyone would point to today’s political climate as a model for success, but the voters in Durango have given our citizens across the state hope that we can come together and make thoughtful, rational decisions at the ballot box.


Dan Schaller, a former high school teacher, is the president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, representing the interests of Colorado’s public charter schools. 


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