Lawmakers pick on low-income children of color

Progressive Policy Institute
3 min readApr 9, 2024

By Tressa Pankovits

Three suburban Colorado legislators last month introduced a bill designed to run public charter schools out of the state. Yet, most charter schools serve urban, not suburban, children. In Colorado, 49.5% of all charter school students live in a city. Not surprisingly, more than half are non-white. Additionally, almost 40% are eligible for a free or reduced lunch, which is how education systems measure low-income students. By way of contrast, just 2.5% of Colorado’s suburban students attend a charter school.

So, why are state Reps. Tammy Story and Lorena García, and Sen. Lisa Cutter crusading against a public education option preferred by minority families who aren’t their constituents?

It’s not as if they’re “bad” schools. The Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University studied national test scores from 2009 to 2019. Colorado charter school students placed second in the nation. In a slightly different study by Stanford University’s Center for Research of Educational Outcomes, Colorado’s public charter school students benefitted from extra personalized learning each year — equal to 15 extra days of reading instruction and 13 days in math — when compared to district schools. That’s fantastic for the state’s 135,000 children lucky enough to get off of a waiting list and get a seat.

“Waiting list,” you ask? Public charter schools are wildly popular with parents seeking greater rigor and accountability in the classroom. Because they are free and open to all, demand naturally exceeds supply.

It’s maddening that lawmakers want to block youngsters from accessing better education options. It’s even sadder that these lawmakers are Democrats. President Bill Clinton created the federal Charter School Program to fuel charter school growth. Every president since, excluding Joe Biden, has supported improving public school options to include more charters in the mix of magnet schools, career academies, and so forth.

It’s also infuriating because public charter schools are doing exactly what Democrats say they value: “Ensuring the next generation has access to a quality education and the tools to drive our economy forward.” Democrats should be promoting charter schools. Instead, HB 1363’s sponsors hope to hoodwink stakeholders by calling their obvious effort to eviscerate Colorado’s charter school sector “an accountability measure.”

How bad is House Bill 1363? It would give anyone living in a school district’s boundaries the power to appeal the approval of a local charter school. Limelight seekers, political gadflies, mischief makers, you name it, all given power to appeal an elected school board’s decision. Talk about creating chaos.

While the bill’s sponsors seek to hand veto power to unelected citizens, they’re also determined to strip the state board of education’s authority. Currently, when a school board denies charter applications or charter renewals, schools can appeal to the state, and the state has the last word. HB 1363 would end that, giving school boards unfettered power, while they continue to spend taxpayer dollars.

In an era of declining public school enrollment, district boards don’t welcome the competition charter schools create. Public charter schools give parents an opportunity to “vote with their feet” by enrolling students in schools that best fit their individual needs. In many cases, charter schools are the only option for parents seeking increased personalized learning, greater accountability, and higher standards for their children.

Disrupting charter schools — a legitimate part of Colorado’s public education system for 34 years — might create backlash. Parents might turn to homeschooling. They could press for state voucher to pay for private schools, as parents successfully have in 20 states. Colorado Democrats need a reality check. There’s no stuffing the toothpaste back into the tube. Parents everywhere have made it abundantly clear: School district monopolies of one-size-fits-all schools no longer satisfy them.

Legislative bills are often the starting point for negotiations between the two parties and between the House and the Senate. HB 1363 is so outlandish, there can be no compromise. Democrats should see the error of their colleagues’ way. The legislature must decisively defeat HB 1363 in its entirety.

Tressa Pankovits is co-director of the Reinventing America’s Schools Project at Progressive Policy Institute.

This story originally ran in Colorado Politics on April 8, 2024.



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