Charter for success in public education

Congratulations to students, teachers, administrators and parents involved with local charter schools. Their efforts to boost student achievement have helped charter schools through the state post, on average, higher levels of reading and math proficiency than traditional public schools — at least for grades three through eight.

Clearly, the 160 charter schools in the state are doing well as a group. Charter schools have been created to help everyone from high-achieving students to those doing poorly, or to emphasize discipline and certain parts of the curriculum.

And there are opportunities to expand the number of charter schools, which operate independently from traditional public schools but receive funding through local school districts.

Just this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he wants to see more charter schools nationwide. And he reminded educators that $4.4 billion in federal stimulus funds are available for innovative educational programs, such as charter schools.

While he acknowledged that not all charter schools are successful, Duncan noted those that are generally have long waiting lists for students. States and the federal government should be working to make such opportunities more available, he said.

Colorado has a chance to expand funding for charter schools “at no cost to our own state’s strapped treasury,” state Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, said in a column for The Denver Post. It can do so if the state Education Department applies for the stimulus money Duncan mentioned, she said, then uses those funds as matching funds for the federal Charter School Facilities Incentive grant program. Together, the two sources of federal funds could bring $10 million to Colorado charter schools over the next five years, Spence said.

Of course, federal money isn’t free. And we don’t advocate new federal spending for charter schools. But both the programs Spence mentioned already have funding in place.

It makes sense for Colorado to seek some of that money to help develop more successful charter schools.

One of the things that helps make many charter schools successful is that parents who send their children to such schools are usually more engaged in their children’s education and the schools they attend. That is abundantly clear at the Caprock Charter School in Grand Junction.

Unfortunately, that’s a factor that isn’t nearly so universal at traditional public schools, and no legislation can successfully mandate that apathetic parents become more involved with their children’s education.

However, to the extent that charter schools foster that parental involvement and student success, we should cheer them. And we should follow the advice of Duncan and Spence to look for ways to expand charter opportunities.


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