Measuring Up

 



Colorado

TOTAL SCORE:
163 out of 228

Rank: 5 out of 43

Year Charter School Law Was Enacted:  1993
Estimated Number of Public Charter Schools in 2013-14:  197 
Estimated Number of Public Charter School Students in 2013-14:  99,328

Colorado did not pass any legislation in 2013 that affected its score and ranking.

Colorado’s score increased from 160 points in 2013 to 163 points this year. The score changed because of a change in state policy for Component #11 (Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Public Charter School Boards). Its ranking went from #4 to #5.

Potential areas for improvement in the law include clarifying student recruitment, enrollment, and lottery procedures and enacting statutory guidelines to govern the expansion of high-quality charter schools through multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards.

Do Colorado's laws align to the model law?

Model Law Component

Matches

Colorado's Charter Law

Score

1. No Caps

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Colorado law does not place any caps on charter school growth.

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1A. No limits are placed on the number of public charter schools or students (and no geographic limits).

1B. If caps exist, adequate room for growth.

N/A

2. A Variety of Public Charter Schools Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Colorado law allows new start-ups, public school conversions, and virtual schools.

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2A. New start-ups.

2B. Public school conversions.

2C. Virtual schools.

3. Multiple Authorizers Available

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Colorado law allows all local school boards to authorize charter schools, provided that a majority of students (other than online students) at a charter school authorized by a district reside in that district or in contiguous school districts.

In addition, Colorado law has established an independent Charter School Institute with statewide chartering authority except in districts granted “exclusive chartering authority” by the state board of education. The law provides that exclusive chartering authority is a privilege and allows the state board to remove it for authorizers not meeting expectations. Colorado law automatically provides exclusive chartering authority to districts enrolling fewer than 3,000 pupils. It requires other local school boards to apply to the state board for exclusive chartering authority within the geographic boundaries of their district. It also provides that each local school board that was granted exclusive chartering authority by April 17, 2008 retains that authority until the local school board voluntarily relinquishes it or the state board revokes it pursuant to Colorado law.

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3A. The state allows two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.

4. Authorizer & Overall Program Accountability System Required

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Colorado law does not require local school boards to register or otherwise affirm their interest in authorizing to the state. However, it requires local school boards in districts with more than 3,000 pupils to apply to the state for exclusive chartering authority within the geographic boundaries of their district.

Colorado law does not provide for a regular review of authorizer performance by the state, but the legislature and governor can review the performance of the state charter institute as an authorizer at any time.

The law provides the state board with limited authority to sanction local school board authorizers through the power to grant (where not statutorily granted) or deny exclusive chartering authority and to revoke such authority if warranted. This sanctioning authority applies only to local school boards that seek, or seek to maintain, exclusive authority. Only the legislature may remove the chartering authority of the state charter institute.

Colorado law requires each authorizer to report annually to the state department of education information that the state requires for public school performance reporting. The law does not require authorizers to report annually on their authorizing activities.

Colorado law requires the state department of education to prepare a report and evaluation every three years for the governor and the state House and Senate education committees on the success or failure of Colorado’s charter schools, their relationship to other school reform efforts, and suggested changes in state law to strengthen the charter school program. It requires the state board to compile charter school evaluations from local district authorizers and the state charter institute. In preparing its evaluation of charter schools statewide, the law requires the state board to compare the performance of charter school students with the performance of ethnically and economically comparable groups of students in other public schools who are enrolled in academically comparable courses.

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4A. At least a registration process for local school boards to affirm their interest in chartering to the state.

4B. Application process for other eligible authorizing entities.

N/A

4C. Authorizer submission of annual report, which summarizes the agency’s authorizing activities as well as the performance of its school portfolio.

4D. A regular review process by authorizer oversight body.

4E. Authorizer oversight body with authority to sanction authorizers, including removal of authorizer right to approve schools.

4F. Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

5. Adequate Authorizer Funding

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

For district-chartered schools, Colorado law provides that district authorizers may retain the actual cost of each charter school’s per-pupil share of central administrative costs for services actually provided to the charter school, up to 15% of per-pupil funding for districts with 500 or fewer students and up to 5% of per-pupil funding for all other districts. For institute-chartered schools, the law provides that the institute may retain 3% of per-pupil funding (while the state department of education may retain up to 2% of per-pupil funding for its relevant administrative costs).

Within 90 days after the end of each fiscal year, the law requires each authorizer to provide to each charter school it oversees an itemized accounting of all its central administrative overhead costs.

The law does not require a separate contract for services purchased by a charter school from its authorizer. In the case of institute-chartered schools, the law requires schools and the institute to agree on any services to be provided by the institute or by other parties as part of the charter contract.

The law prohibits the state charter institute from requiring charter schools to purchase services from the institute. The law similarly provides that a district-chartered school may purchase services at its discretion from the district.

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5A. Adequate funding from authorizing fees (or other sources).

5B. Guaranteed funding from authorizing fees (or from sources not subject to annual legislative appropriations).

5C. Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.

5D. Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.

5E. Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

6. Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Colorado law sets forth a non-exclusive list of minimum general requirements for the content of all charter school applications. The law sets forth additional application requirements specific to conversions, educational service providers, and virtual schools. In addition, the law requires virtual schools to be approved by the state after the authorizer’s initial approval prior to operating. It does not include additional application elements specific to replications.

The law requires a public hearing but not an in-person interview for each charter application. The law requires the state charter institute to conduct a rigorous review of each application, but does not specify such a standard for local school board authorizers.

The law requires authorizers to make charter approval or denial decisions in a public meeting and state reasons for denial in writing.

The law does not require authorizers to issue requests for proposals that include application requirements and approval criteria.

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6A. Application elements for all schools.

6B. Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.

6C. Additional application elements specific to virtual schools.

6D. Additional application elements specific when using educational service providers.

6E. Additional application elements specific to replications.

6F. Authorizer-issued request for proposals (including application requirements and approval criteria).

6G. Thorough evaluation of each application including an in-person interview and a public meeting.

6H. All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

7. Performance-Based Charter Contracts Required

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Colorado law requires a charter contract to be negotiated and executed between each charter school and its authorizer, based upon the approved charter application. The law specifies some administrative issues that contracts must address, but does not require clear articulation of the respective roles and responsibilities of charter schools and authorizers.

The law requires charter contracts to provide a description of the charter school’s measurable annual targets for the measures used to determine the levels of attainment of the performance indicators specified in state law and procedures for taking corrective action if student performance at the school falls below the described targets.

Colorado law requires that charter terms must be for at least four years. The law permits an authorizer and a charter school to agree to extend the length of a charter contract beyond five academic years for the purpose of enhancing the terms of any lease or financial obligation, but does not require periodic high-stakes reviews in such cases.

The law does not require contracts to include requirements addressing the unique environments of virtual schools.

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7A. Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.

7B. Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.

7C. Defining academic and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged, based on a performance framework that includes measures and metrics for, at a minimum, student academic proficiency and growth, achievement gaps, attendance, recurrent enrollment, postsecondary readiness (high schools), financial performance, and board stewardship (including compliance).

7D. Providing an initial term of five operating years (or a longer term with periodic high-stakes reviews.

7E. Including requirements addressing the unique environments of virtual schools, if applicable.

8. Comprehensive Charter School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Colorado law requires authorizers to annually review a charter school’s performance. At a minimum, the law requires the review to include the charter school’s progress in meeting the objectives identified in the plan the charter school is required to implement pursuant to state law and the results of the charter school’s most recent annual financial audit. The law requires authorizers to provide to the charter school written feedback from the review and include the results of the charter school’s annual review in the body of evidence that the authorizer takes into account in deciding whether to renew or revoke the charter and that supports the renegotiation of the charter contract.

Colorado law requires charter schools to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management and to annually complete a governmental audit that complies with state requirements. In addition, the law requires all public schools, including charters, to post comprehensive financial information online.

If a charter school is required to implement a turnaround plan pursuant to state law for a second consecutive year, the law requires the charter school to present to its authorizer, in addition to the turnaround plan, a summary of the changes made by the charter school to improve its performance, the progress made in implementing the changes, and evidence, as requested by the authorizer, that the charter school is making sufficient improvement to attain a higher accreditation category within two school years or sooner. If the authorizer finds that the charter school’s evidence of improvement is not sufficient or if the charter school is required to implement a turnaround plan for a third consecutive school year, the law provides that the authorizer may revoke the school’s charter.

Colorado law requires authorizers to annually report to the state department of education state-required information to produce annual school performance reports on each school, which are made public by the state.

Colorado law allows authorizers to request, from the state commissioner of education, temporary intervention powers over a charter school or charter management organization in certain emergency situations. The law sets clear guidelines as to how, when, and for long an authorizer may intervene in such situations if granted authority by the state commissioner.

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8A. The collection and analysis of student outcome data at least annually by authorizers (consistent with performance framework outlined in the contract).

8B. Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).

8C. Authorizer authority to conduct or require oversight activities.

8D. Annual school performance reports which are made public.

8E. Authorizer notification to their schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.

8F. Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.

9. Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal, and Revocation Decisions

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Colorado law requires charter schools seeking renewal to submit a renewal application. However, it does not require authorizers to issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.

The law requires authorizers to adopt and revise as necessary procedures and timelines for the charter renewal process. It requires authorizers to ensure that each of the charter schools authorized by them receives a copy of these procedures and timelines.

Colorado law states general grounds for non-renewal or revocation, but does not state, or require authorizers to state, clear criteria for renewal.

The law requires authorizers to consider in a renewal application the school’s performance and progress over the charter term.

For district-chartered schools, Colorado law provides that a charter may be renewed for successive periods. It does not define or limit the length of renewal contracts issued by districts. For schools chartered by the state institute, the law provides that charter contracts may be renewed for successive terms of up to five academic years, and a charter school and the institute may agree to extend the length of a renewed contract beyond five years for the purpose of enhancing the terms of any lease or financial obligation.

Colorado law provides that least 15 days prior to the date on which an authorizer will consider whether to revoke or renew a charter, the authorizer must provide to the charter school a written recommendation, including the reasons supporting the recommendation, concerning whether to revoke or renew the charter. It does not require authorizers to
provide charter schools with the opportunity to respond.

The law allows schools to appeal a decision to revoke or non-renew the school to the state board of education.

Colorado law requires authorizers to make charter renewal, non-renewal, or revocation decisions in a public meeting and state reasons for non-renewal or revocation in writing.

Colorado law requires each authorizer to adopt procedures for closing a charter school following revocation or nonrenewal of the charter school’s charter. At a minimum, the law provides that the procedures shall ensure that:

• When practicable and in the best interest of the students of the charter school, the charter school continues to operate through the end of the school year. If the authorizer determines it is necessary to close the charter school prior to the end of the school year, the authorizer shall work with the charter school to determine an earlier closure date.
• The authorizer works with the parents of the students who are enrolled in the charter school when the charter is revoked or not renewed to ensure that the students are enrolled in schools that meet their educational needs; and
• The charter school meets its financial, legal, and reporting obligations during the period that the charter school is concluding operations.

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9A. Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.

9B. Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.

9C. Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.

9D. Clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.

9E. Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract (in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract).

9F. Authorizer authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.

9G. Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or non-renewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.

9H. Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).

9I. All charter renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing.

9J. Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.

10. Educational Service Providers (ESPs) Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Colorado law contains all of the model law’s provisions for educational service providers.

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10A. All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and non-profit) explicitly allowed to operate all or parts of schools.

10B. The charter application requires 1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, including documentation of academic achievement and (if applicable) school management success; and 2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.

10C. A performance contract is required between the independent public charter school board and the ESP, setting forth material terms including but not limited to: performance evaluation measures; methods of contract oversight and enforcement by the charter school board; compensation structure and all fees to be paid to the ESP; and conditions for contract renewal and termination.

10D. The material terms of the ESP performance contract must be approved by the authorizer prior to charter approval.

10E. School governing boards operating as entities completely independent of any educational service provider (e.g., must retain independent oversight authority of their charter schools, and cannot give away their authority via contract).

10F. Existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.

11. Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Public Charter School Boards

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Colorado law explicitly provides for charter school fiscal and legal autonomy. The law also states that a charter school shall be administered and governed by a governing body in a manner agreed to in the charter contract and requires charter schools to organize as nonprofit corporations.

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11A. Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds, incur debt, and pledge, assign or encumber assets as collateral).

11B. Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).

11C. School governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

12. Clear Student Recruitment, Enrollment, and Lottery Procedures

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Colorado law requires public charter schools to provide open enrollment to any student in the state. However, it also provides that a prospective charter school may not execute a charter contract with a local district unless a majority of the proposed school’s pupils, other than online pupils, will reside in the chartering district or in contiguous districts.

Colorado law does not require charter schools to administer enrollment lotteries if a school is oversubscribed. Instead, the law permits charter schools to admit students on a first-come, first-served basis.

Colorado law provides for charter schools to make enrollment decisions in a nondiscriminatory manner specified by the charter school applicant in the application and does not require the mandatory enrollment preferences specified in the model law (for previously enrolled students within conversions, prior year students within chartered schools, siblings of enrolled students enrolled at a charter school). The law permits charter schools to negotiate optional enrollment preferences with their authorizer, but the only automatically permitted optional preference is for founders’ children.

2

12A. Open enrollment to any student in the state.

12B. Lottery requirements.

12C. Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions, prior year students within chartered schools, siblings of enrolled students enrolled at a charter school.

12D. Optional enrollment preference for children of a school’s founders, governing board members, and full-time employees, not exceeding 10% of the school’s total student population.

13. Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

The state board of education has promulgated rules identifying state statutes and rules that are automatically waived for all charter schools. Colorado law also allows a district authorizer or the state charter Institute to apply to the state board, on behalf a charter school, for a waiver of a state statute or rule that is not automatically waived for charter schools by rule.

Colorado law requires charter school teachers to be certified, unless a waiver is granted in the charter by the state board, which has happened without exception for over 200 schools since 1993.

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13A. Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.

13B. Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

14. Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemption

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

The law doesn’t explicitly address this issue, but has been consistently interpreted to exempt charter schools from district collective bargaining agreements.

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14A. Charter schools authorized by non-local board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.

14B. Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

15. Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Colorado law is silent regarding these arrangements.

2

15A. Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

15B. Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

16. Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access

weight = 1 | Possible total = 4

Colorado law allows charter students access to extracurricular activities at their local district school.

The law does not explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs available to non-charter public school students and employees.

3

16A. Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs available to non-charter public school students and employees.

16B. Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extra-curricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at non-charter public schools for a fee by a mutual agreement.

17. Clear Identification of Special Education Responsibilities

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

For a charter school authorized by a local board of education, Colorado law provides that the school district serves as the LEA for special education purposes. For a charter school authorized by the state charter institute, it provides that the institute serves as the LEA for special education. In either case, the district or the institute is ultimately responsible for providing and funding special education in the schools it charters.

The law specifies that the school district of residence is responsible for the excess costs of educating students with disabilities enrolled in a charter school. In addition, Colorado law provides for an insurance option, whereby charter schools may pay their district LEA a per-pupil amount for all students as a form of insurance for high-cost special education students.

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17A. Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.

17B. Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).

18. Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Colorado law provides that charter schools are entitled to 100% of district per-pupil operating revenues for each pupil they enroll and 100% of the district per-pupil online funding for each online pupil they enroll, minus administrative costs up to a limit. However, the law does not require districts to share locally raised mill levy override funds with charter schools, which average $750 per pupil statewide.

Colorado law provides that charter schools are eligible for their proportionate share of federal and state categorical funding. In practice, there are some implementation problems with this provision where funds are passed through district LEAs.

The law provides that charter schools that meet state reimbursement criteria are eligible for transportation funding on the same basis as school districts.

A national study of charter school funding (Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists, 2010) found that Colorado charter schools were receiving on average $8,306 per pupil, while districts would have received $9,827 per pupil to educate those same students – a gap of $1,521 per pupil, or 15.5%. This comparison includes all sources of funding. The statewide funding gap is primarily attributable to a) charters’ lack of access to local funds through mill levy overrides, and b) the fact that charter schools statewide (though not in urban districts) serve a lower percentage of Title I students and thus receive less Title I funding.

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18A. Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.

18B. Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding, and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.

18C. Funding for transportation similar to school districts.

19. Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Colorado law provides a per-pupil charter facilities funding program. For FY2014, the state appropriated $7 million in capital construction funds to qualified charter schools on a per-pupil basis. This amount, however, is not based on average district capital costs.

Colorado law allows charter schools to apply for competitive grants from the state’s public school facility financing program.

Colorado law creates the “Charter School Matching Moneys Loan Program,” which is set up to provide a state loan for qualified schools (i.e., investment grade schools) to meet any required matches under the state’s public school facility financing program.

The law requires school districts to invite charter schools to discuss their capital construction needs before the district submits a bond request or floats a bond for facilities funding. Districts are not required, however, to include charter schools as part of their requests or bonds.

Colorado law provides a mechanism for limited credit enhancement for eligible, highly rated bond transactions for charter schools by using the state’s moral obligation to back up to $400 million in debt.

Colorado law provides that the Educational and Colorado Cultural Facility Authority (CECFA) may issue bonds on behalf of charter schools. The charter school debt reserve fund, backed by the moral obligation pledge of the state, enhances charter schools’ ability to borrow funds from CECFA and to obtain more favorable rates.

The law specifies that a charter school may not be charged rent for using space in a school district facility, although other costs for facilities operations and maintenance must be negotiated between the charter school and the school district. The law explicitly allows charter schools to lease or purchase land from the state.

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19A. A per-pupil facilities allowance which annually reflects actual average district capital costs.

19B. A state grant program for charter school facilities.

19C. A state loan program for charter school facilities.

19D. Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allow charter schools to have their own bonding authority.

19E. A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for public charter school facilities.

19F. Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to non-charter public schools.

19G. Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.

19H. Prohibition of facility-related requirements stricter than those applied to traditional public schools.

20. Access to Relevant Employee Retirement Systems

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Colorado law requires that charter schools participate in the public employees’ retirement association.

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20A. Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.

20B. Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).