Polis steps up for school choice | Opinion

Kudos to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis for speaking out recently against a federal attempt to shortchange the nation’s groundbreaking charter schools.

Polis is first, last and always a champion of charter schools. It has been part of his signature throughout his two-plus decades in politics, beginning with his first elected post on the state Board of Education in 2000. He even founded a charter school and co-founded another.

That puts him in sync with a whole lot of Colorado parents. Our state was one of the nation’s early adopters of charters, and today, more than 260 of the publicly funded, autonomously operated schools serve over 131,000 students statewide. That’s fully 15% of the state’s public school enrollment.

It also gives the Democratic governor a bridge to both political parties. Colorado Republicans by and large have supported charter schools since their inception under a GOP-run Legislature in the early 1990s. Many of the state’s most prominent elected Democrats also have embraced charters from the beginning; it was a three-term Democratic Gov. Roy Romer who signed Colorado’s first charter law.

But it leaves Polis at odds with some members of his party in the state – as well as in Washington. As reported last week, the governor wrote a letter to US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona denouncing changes proposed by the Biden administration to federal rules that could make it harder for charter schools to get startup grants. He also penned a commentary amplifying his concerns in The Washington Post.

The grant program, Polis wrote in the commentary, “is the only source of dedicated federal funding to support the growth of high-quality charter schools, and we must ensure the program can meet the clear demand for these life-transforming schools.”

Under the program, new charters can apply for funding for onetime startup costs such as equipment or teacher training. The pending proposal, for which the Education Department has been gathering public comments before implementation, set new criteria that charters must meet before qualifying for a grant. The criteria include conducting a community-impact analysis to show there is “sufficient demand” for the applying school and that opening it would not increase racial or socioeconomic segregation in the community.

Wrote Polis, “The rules would put major, sometimes unworkable barriers in the way of charter schools seeking… funding. For one, they would require a federal ‘community impact analysis,’ giving anonymous grant reviewers in Washington the ability to veto parent, community, district and state efforts to open a new school. This second-guessing is absurd and flies in the face of common sense. ”

Police deserves praise for pushing back at the administration of a president in his party on so pivotal an issue for Colorado’s kids.

He meanwhile ought to leverage the occasion as a warning to his party’s anti-charter school elements in Colorado – the state lawmakers and local school board members who were elected as minions and mouthpieces of the teachers unions.

Polis should make clear to them he will confront them, as well, if they continue to do the bidding of organized labor – instead of students – with legislative and school board attempts to curb charters.

It is in fact a great opportunity for Polis to remind his party rank and file that Democrats have been among Colorado’s most prominent proponents of charters over the years. They include every Democratic governor since Romer as well as former Senate President Peter Groff and former House Speaker Terrance Carroll. It’s time for his party to return to its roots.

The Gazette Editorial Board


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