Discussion stretched over two sessions totaling two hours, but the State Board of Education Wednesday unanimously approved regulations intended to strengthen the process of authorizing charter schools and the internal governance of schools.
It took the board a lot less time to unanimously approve rules intended to implement recent legislation affecting online schools.
The charter school regulations were the product of a long process that began when the 2010 legislature, rather than directly tackle the contentious issue of charter regulation, created a committee to develop standards.
The legislation was prompted by conflict of interest, excessive compensation and other problems at the Pueblo-based Cesar Chavez charter network.
The committee basically recommended that Colorado adopt the standards for schools and authorizers of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. (Read committee report.)
Several state board members were uncomfortable with the hybrid nature of the proposed rules, which are part regulation and part best practices.
Calling the original legislation “a sloppy law,” SBE chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, said, “Reading through the law it’s really hard to figure out what the legislature wants first the committee and then this board to do.”
The board – after Department of Education staff redrafted some sections – finally adopted amendments to make it clear that authorizers (primarily school districts) have some flexibility in using the new standards – and that the board has flexibility in considering charter school appeals.
Key elements of the rules are intended to ensure that charter schools have conflict of interest policies that comply with state and federal laws, that employee pay comply with excessive compensation standards under federal law or industry standards and that charter board members be trained on conflicts of interest and excessive compensation.
The new rules also strengthen non-discrimination guidelines for schools. (Read the rules. This copy doesn’t include the board’s changes, which primarily involved board discretion in considering appeals.)
In other action related to charter schools, the board upheld the decision of the state Charter School Institute board to reject an application from Great Books Early College, an out-of-state online program.
Online regulations breeze through
The board took less than half an hour to unanimous approve new regulations governing multi-district online schools.
The rules are intended to implement the provisions of House Bill 11-1277, a law that aligned standards for online schools with the state’s overall accountability system. That system annually rates all schools and districts, assigns accreditation levels and requires improvement plans for those at lower accreditation levels.
The law also was intended to clarify that school districts that authorize online programs have primary oversight responsibility. The law repealed previous requirements that authorizers of online programs provide annual reports to the state and that multi-district programs be periodically recertified by the state.
Some multi-district programs have been criticized for low student achievement and for high numbers of students leaving programs after the annual Oct. 1 enrollment count. A program receives state per-pupil funding based on that count and retains the money even if a student leaves before the end of the school year.
The Oct. 1 count-and-funding system is part of state law and can be changed only by the legislature. Proposals to both change the overall school finance system and to change funding and regulation of online schools are expected to be debated during the 2012 legislative session. (Legislation on charter school standards also is expected.)
Board member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, urged her fellow members “to be proactive in looking at options to go beyond the single count day” and work with legislators on that issue.