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Will Dougco 'voucher charter' undermine charter schools?

Editor’s note: This post and the one that follows offer two differing perspectives on aspects of the Douglas County School District’s voucher program, which is slated to begin early next month, but is being challenged in court by several groups.

This post was submitted by Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools

In recent days, the Colorado League of Charter Schools has publicly commented on its concern about the Douglas County Choice Scholarship charter school.

First, we want to make it clear that our concerns are about the way Douglas County School District is choosing to implement its scholarship program. We are not taking issue with Douglas County’s intentions nor its scholarship program in general.

Charter schools were built on the foundation of innovation and choice. Therefore, the League applauds Douglas County’s attempts at using innovation to provide parents with additional educational options.

Unfortunately, however, the Douglas County School District decided to use the Colorado Charter Schools Act as a vehicle to implement their voucher program, which creates a number of issues and could ultimately be detrimental to the Colorado charter school community as a whole.

Charter school quality & accountability

The Colorado League of Charter Schools has created Quality Standards for Developing Charter Schools. The Douglas County Choice Scholarship School application does not come close to meeting these standards, nor does the proposed governance structure comport with commonly accepted principles of charter governance. Douglas County School District submitted the application to itself, approved it, and then appointed the school’s board of directors – a structure that turns on its head the idea of an authorizer holding a charter school accountable for performance.

The Colorado League of Charter Schools is concerned about the Douglas County Choice Scholarship School setting an unfortunate precedent for charter schools that fail to meet important quality standards.

Public understanding of charter schools

Since their creation, charter schools have been plagued by mis-information and myths. Parents are often confused about what charter schools are and mistake them for private schools. Political opponents accuse charter schools of being a vehicle to privatize public education.

The Douglas County Choice Scholarship School further perpetuates these myths and muddies the waters when it comes to properly understanding that charter schools are tuition-free, public schools that must adhere to the same federal and state laws as traditional public schools.

Charter schools have worked hard over the past 20 years to define quality and overcome myths. We hope Douglas County’s effort does not set this progress back.

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