Tuesday, February 3, 2004
Sorting out issues sometimes depends on figuring out who's in charge.
Don Nord wants to use medicinal marijuana in his home. The state of Colorado says he can, the federal government says he can't. American Skiing Co. thinks Triple Peaks' lawsuit should be dismissed. A local judge agrees and tosses the case, only to have a higher court reverse the decision on appeal.
Ultimately, the judicial system will have to sort out those cases. But in the case of Steamboat Springs Montessori versus the Steamboat Springs School District, the state might circumvent the judicial system. Last week, the House Education Committee approved a bill that would give the state the authority to create charter schools when a school district says no.
Such a bill, if approved, would be an end run around the situation in Steamboat Springs, where Steamboat Springs Montessori has sued the school district over the district's refusal to obey a state Board of Education order to negotiate a contract for the creation of a Montessori charter school.
In our opinion, the bill would undermine local control and wouldn't solve the larger issues with the state's charter school law.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, is partially in response to the situation in Steamboat. But ours is not the only school district to challenge the state's decade-old Charter School Act. Several districts have stalled in responding to charter applications; others, such as Steamboat, have refused to negotiate with charter applicants.
When Colorado's Charter School Act was established in 1993, it was designed to empower parents, educators and others to provide school choice, particularly in areas where public schools were under-performing and expectations were low. Instead, the charter school law often has been used to create specialized schools in small, high-performing school districts such as Steamboat's. That is where conflicts have risen.
Steamboat Springs already has one charter school. The district argues it can't afford a second, and a majority of the community has sided with the district. In such a situation, can and should a local school district be able to say "no?"
In Steamboat's case, the answer to that question rests with the court system, unless the school district and Steamboat Springs Montessori are able to reach a compromise that ends the lawsuit.
Either outcome would be preferable to King's bill, which simply turns a deaf ear on the problems districts have said they face with the Charter School Act.
Meaningful reform would encourage the creation of charter schools, while addressing the funding challenges for local districts and placing reasonable limits on the number of charter schools a single district should be expected to support.
King's legislation isn't meaningful reform. The bill puts the state in charge of something local districts should have a significant stake in deciding. Lawmakers should defeat the bill.