Priola: Parity for Charter Schools and Students

With over 100,000 students--a 30 percent increase since 2013--charter school enrollment is skyrocketing. More and more, Colorado families are demanding an end to one-size-fits-all education and charter schools are a unique options for families hoping to break the mold. As a father of four distinctly individual kids, I know that each child has unique skills, talents, and needs. Expanding school choice in Colorado increases the likelihood that every student will receive the best education to suit those specific needs and goals. However, legacy schools, traditional brick and mortar district schools, can withhold 5 percent of per pupil funding from Colorado public charters. That's 5% in addition to the excess revenue from mill levies that legacies enjoy and charters are denied. Those excess dollars add up, and public charter students and teachers receive the short end of stick, having to work harder to compensate for the disparity. That's why I, along with Republicans in the Colorado State Senate and House, will continue to push for parity in funding for charter schools to give every Colorado student their best chance at a successful future.

Both locally and nationally, charter schools are overwhelmingly more racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. A Columbia University study concluded that schools with more integrated populations produce students who are more likely to attend college, more likely to be civically engaged and involved in their community, less likely to commit violent crime, and less likely to experience poverty. According to the Colorado Department of Education, nearly half of all charter students identify as a racial or ethnic minority, more than in corresponding legacy schools. Colorado public charters also tend to attract a significant population of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, a number that has grown steadily in recent years, halving the gap in representation since 2008. Public Charter schools continue to offer more students and families access to exceptional education and greater opportunities to succeed both in the classroom and beyond.

The 226 charter schools in Colorado offer a wide variety of specializations and educational programs, from STEM, to college prep, character education, dual language education, and experiential learning, Colorado public charters are geared to suit the needs and goals of each individual child. These programs create a more positive and productive learning environment in which children are excited to contribute. That's why it should come as no surprise that Colorado charter students continually outscore their legacy peers on exams at every level. On average, 78 percent of charter students in third grade scored either proficient or advanced on reading assessments compared to only 73 percent of legacy students. Similarly, 59 percent of charter 6th graders scored proficient or advanced on state math assessments, while only 49 percent of their legacy peers met state standards. As charters grow and find their footing in Colorado, they continue to make great strides in increasing diversity of programs, test scores, graduation rates, and post-secondary placement.

With charter schools continuing to demonstrate greater diversity and better performance than legacy schools, it is appalling that charter teachers experience such disparity in compensation. An overwhelming 89 percent of charter teachers were deemed "highly qualified" by the Colorado Department of Education, with the majority of those averaging over six years teaching experience in charter schools. However, these same teachers make about $14,000 less annually, averaging a salary of $39,052. Not only do charter teachers and students put in extra work, but parents tend to be more involved as well. Many charters have strict policies on parental contributions to encourage a team-effort mindset. Parents play an integral part in their student's education, and when parents are involved, test scores soar. Additionally, a survey of over 1,500 parents with school-age children found that the majority of public charter parents were satisfied with their child's school, an average of 13 percent more than legacy parents. This shocking discrepancy in teacher pay and correlation between parental involvement and student performance deserves our attention as we continue our fight for greater school choice and equity in funding for charter schools in Colorado.

This session, I, along with Republicans in the legislature, will seek to provide parity for families who choose charters and help their schools secure the funding they need to succeed. All students deserve access to new and emerging educational technologies, highly qualified, adequately compensated teachers, new textbooks, and classroom materials. Public charter families pay the same property taxes as legacy school families-which are used to fund schools-and should not be exempted when excess revenue from those taxes is distributed. With more schools and more choice comes greater opportunities for a larger amount of students to be successful in the classroom and beyond. Public charters are building students from diverse backgrounds with strong character, exceptional test scores, and a high propensity to succeed. They should be given the same opportunities as their legacy peers, not punished for daring to break the mold of traditional education.
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