Bill addresses charter school waivers from 18 state laws

A proposal put forth March 3 in the Colorado Legislature would eliminate the automatic waivers for charter schools from 18 Colorado laws and require charters to provide a plan on how they will meet each law’s intent. House Bill 16-1343, sponsored by Rep. Dominick Moreno (D–Commerce City), raises accountability and transparency on charter schools while ensuring they comply with state law.

Kerrie Dallman“This bill would challenge charter schools to play by the same rules as neighborhood schools. Currently, the playing field is vastly different,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association. “Charter schools are allowed to waive out of many requirements that neighborhood public schools abide by every school day. We need legislation that makes every school, neighborhood or charter, more accountable to the same standards. All students and parents deserve consistency throughout the public school family, and I thank Rep. Moreno for bringing this important issue to light.”

Dallman said parents and community members would be surprised by the long list of automatic waivers that charters receive from the state without providing any documentation that a waiver is beneficial for the students they serve. The waiver list, available on the Colorado Department of Education website, includes 18 state statutes that don’t apply to charters, including compulsory school attendance for students, acceptance of outside funding, and even teacher certification.

“Parents should be aware of the astounding number of teachers in charter school classrooms today who do not hold the basic state certification to teach,” Dallman added. “As a high school teacher in a neighborhood school, I can’t imagine stepping in front of students without having met Colorado’s basic quality benchmarks. Waiving schools from this statute isn’t good for kids. In fact, there’s not any research that waiving out of any of these laws improves student achievement.”

A new national poll shows large majorities of voters in Colorado and across the nation support reforms to strengthen charter school accountability and transparency. Among the findings, more than 80% of respondents agree all teachers who work in taxpayer funded schools need to meet the same training and qualification requirements, and demand state officials conduct regular audits of charter schools' finances to detect fraud, waste or abuse of public funds. More than 70% of respondents have concerns that charter school companies are not disclosing outside funding, are not returning taxpayer money to the school district for students who leave a charter and return to a neighborhood school, and are not encouraging special needs students to enroll.

“This automatic waiver system legitimizes the transfer of publicly-collected taxes to private entities that are showing little to no desire to be held accountable for their actions. It’s a massive loophole for special interests that we desperately need to close,” said Dallman. “We hear of charters wanting to be seen as part of a public school family, but what functioning family would let one of their family members make up all of their own rules? Charter schools would be wise to embrace this law if they want to show the public they are serious about serving as community schools dedicated to deepening their relationships with educators and parents and to improving the success of all students.”