The Colorado State Capitol on the first day of the legislative session in Denver on Jan. 13, 2021. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado lawmakers rejected a bill Thursday that would have made it easier for school boards to turn down new charter schools after more than four hours of emotional testimony, much of it from charter school families who felt the change would reduce educational opportunities.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jennifer Bacon, a Democrat who also serves on the Denver school board, said her goal was actually the opposite. Enrollment is down in many metro area school districts, leading both districts and charter networks to close schools and consolidate programs. When resources are spread among too many schools, it’s harder to provide advanced courses, school nurses, or social workers at any of them.

To better manage this change, Bacon argued, school boards need more authority to turn down charter schools and more protection against being overruled by the State Board of Education.

Two Democrats on the House Education Committee joined three Republicans in voting down the bill 5 to 4, preserving bipartisan support at the Capitol for charter schools and school choice.

Opponents said school districts shouldn’t look to shore up their financial position at the expense of students who feel better served in publicly funded but independently run charter schools.

At one point in the debate, state Rep. Timothy Geitner, a Falcon Republican, asked Bacon whether a district’s goal should be running schools or giving families what they need.

“I would say it’s both,” Bacon said. “Families need schools that meet their needs and those needs may be multifaceted. Families may want schools that have art, PE, and a nurse, and we are not able to provide that because of the very finite landscape we are in.”


Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...