The recent confirmation as U.S. secretary of education of billionaire Betsy DeVos, a charter and school choice advocate, and President Donald Trump’s support for school choice during his Feb. 28 speech before Congress have spotlighted attention on the role of charter schools in public education nationally.
The existence of charter schools in Colorado can be traced to 1993, when then-state Sen. Bill Owens and then-state Rep. Peggy Kerns introduced the Charter Schools Act, which received bipartisan support and was signed into law.
Since then, the number of charter schools has been rising, not only in Douglas County, but throughout the state
Colorado had 141 charter schools during the 2007-08 school year, according to the Colorado Department of Education. That number grew to 226 charters — a 60 percent increase — by the 2015-16 school year.
Kevin G. Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder School of Education specializing in educational policy and law, believes charter schools have reached “a turning point” in the state.
“The first charter school law is now a quarter-century old, and charters are now an established part of the educational landscape nationally and here in Colorado,” Welner said. “But within the sector there are two distinct factions — those focused on quality and those focused on a shift to the free market and on rapid growth.”
He cautions that the federal leadership of DeVos, a proponent of growth and the free market, could tilt reform in that direction, leading to “less regulation, more for-profit involvement and greater variation in quality.”
Compared to states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Arizona, where charter schools are less well regulated, he said the charter school sector in Colorado has focused on quality.
“Relatively speaking,” he said, “quality has been a serious objective for charter school leaders in the state.”