Vinny Badolato is vice president of public affairs at the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Almost eight months after declaring its creation by one of the first executive orders as governor, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office released the appointments to the Education Leadership Council (ELC) about ten days ago, to little fanfare.
This is not very surprising; it is sometimes hard to get excited about another education-focused committee. But, if the ELC lives up to its charge – which is to “provide a meaningful forum for educators, community members, business leaders and lawmakers to examine the current status of education policies and make recommendations to the governor, General Assembly and governing boards regarding long-term improvements” – then this actually should be a fairly important committee.
The 38-member ELC is a who’s who of education in Colorado, and understandably so considering the task it is embarking on. Since this group is mapping out the future of education in Colorado, it should be all-encompassing. As such, every major K-12 group or association’s interests are thoroughly represented (protected?) on the ELC.
All except for one, that is. There is a glaring disparity in representation by charter schools, and I believe this is a real problem. Let me explain.
As I said, every major K-12 education association or group is represented, either by a dues-paying member, a paid staff member appointed in the ubiquitous “public member” category or, in most cases, both a named member and a public member. I could list them, but that’s boring and I have a word limit. So I encourage you to take a look for yourself. If you are not sure of who a particular member is, just Google the name and it will become clear.
But while every other Colorado K-12 association has an appointee on the ELC to represent their sector (all executive directors, no less), the Colorado League of Charter Schools does not have an appointee to represent charter schools.
I am not going to pretend that charter schools are completely devoid of representation. Charters do have a named representative on the ELC. It’s David Ethan Greenberg, who was a founder of Denver School of Science and Technology and is also soon to be past-president of the League’s board. David is a great voice for charter schools, so I am happy he was appointed. And there are several other members that are strong supporters of the charter school model.
Some of you might be thinking “Charter schools have adequate representation, so quit whining.” But I believe my complaint is justified for two reasons. First, the ELC will be engaged in long-term education planning for Colorado and charter schools are key for the long-term improvements of education in Colorado. There are currently over 170 charter schools in practically every corner of Colorado educating approximately 75,000 public school kids daily. That is well over 9 percent of the K-12 student population in the state, and, if charter schools were their own district, that district would be the third largest in Colorado.
Additionally there are approximately eight to 10 new charter school being approved and/or opening statewide each year. Finally, charter schools are by and large demonstrating significant and consistent student growth and overall achievement gains (I’ll delve more into charter school performance in later posts). The size, growth, and performance of the charter school sector in Colorado warrants representation from a staff member of the association that both represents and can speak for Colorado’s charter schools.
Second, while there are supporters of the charter school model and specific schools on the ELC, there is no one on the ELC whose actual job is to represent the Colorado charter school sector, unlike the other education associations with public members. From Alta Vista Charter School in Lamar to Paradox Valley Charter School in Paradox and all the other schools in between, no one knows the contributions of the sector and how charter schools fit into the multifaceted Colorado education context better than would an appointed League staff member.
This knowledge and voice is critical for developing a strong and all-encompassing set of recommendations for “long-term improvements”. And, frankly, it is no one on the ELC’s job to represent – and yes, protect – the sector’s interest from those who may not share the view that charter schools are a critical part of Colorado’s educational future or may not be thoroughly informed on how charter schools fit into that future.
Even without proper representation, I hope the conversations and decision making process of the ELC is wide open so that the charter school sector receives a strong voice and is accurately represented in the Council’s recommendations. Otherwise, it will be hard to believe that the ELC will actually be a “meaningful forum”.