House Bill 1295 was introduced last month at the Colorado Capitol with the innocuous title, “Rebuttable Presumption in Charter School Appeals.” Despite this seemingly harmless name, the bill actually represents one of the more dangerous proposals brought forth against students and families this entire legislative session.  

Sponsored by state Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, who is also a Denver Public Schools board member, the measure seeks to change the standard by which disagreements over charter schools are currently handled. 

Angelina Sierra-Sandoval

Under existing law, whenever a school district rules against a charter school (in the case of opening a new one or extending an existing one, for example), that school can challenge the decision to the State Board of Education. The state board then makes a final determination based on what’s in the best interest of students, the school district or the community.

This standard has not only proven very balanced over time in terms of outcome, it’s also in my view the proper standard on which we should be basing all of our education decisions as a state. 

After all, why else do we have an education system if not to ensure that we’re best serving the needs and interests of our children? All other considerations should be wholly and consistently secondary to that.

And yet Rep. Bacon’s bill seeks to fundamentally undermine this by saying instead that so long as a school district bases its decision against a charter school on the impacts it would have on district finances, district enrollment or district strategic plans, then the district is presumed to be right. 

The problem is that none of these categories – district finances, district enrollment, district strategic plans – have much of anything to do with kids. They actually sound a lot like what’s in the best interest of adults.

At the Colorado League of Charter Schools, where I am director of governmental affairs, we focus on putting kids first. Our No. 1 principle above all others emphasizes the following: “Putting Students First: All Colorado children, regardless of ZIP code or background, deserve access to high-quality public school options.” 

And I’m proud to say that the track record of following this principle has garnered consistently positive results for Colorado students.

Just last week, US News & World Report released its annual ranking of Colorado’s best public high schools, and it once again found that public charter schools dominate the list. In fact, eight of the top 10 public high schools in the state are charter schools, results that are very similar to what’s been found in prior years. 

This comes at the same time that Colorado’s public charter schools are serving higher percentages of both English language learners and students of color

Why would we seek to change something that’s been working for so many of our state’s students, particularly when many of those students come from historically underserved backgrounds? 

And yet make no mistake about it: In our view, Rep. Bacon’s bill would radically tip the scales against charter schools in a way that would make it virtually impossible for them to overturn a district decision, regardless of how bad the decision is. 

After all, there isn’t much that can’t be justified if districts are allowed to say that a charter school impacted their finances, enrollment or long-term plans.

Public charter schools have represented a lifeline for many of our state’s students and families. HB 1295 could effectively eliminate that lifeline. 

We must not allow it to pass. We must continue to keep children at the forefront of education in Colorado.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday, May 13, before the House Education Committee.

Angelina Sierra-Sandoval is the director of governmental affairs at the Colorado League of Charter Schools, representing Colorado’s 261 public charter schools serving 125,000 students. She previously served as the intergovernmental affairs manager at Denver Public Schools.

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