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Charter Schools Get $20 Million Windfall From Feds - Despite Legislative Attempts At Rollback

Only weeks after another wave of legislative attacks on Colorado's innovative charter-school program, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded the state more than $20 million to help foster more charters. The grant, to be dispensed over the next three years, recognized Colorado's historical support for charters.

The irony of the windfall -- right after another round of attempts in the General Assembly to curb the popular, independently run public schools -- wasn't lost on Assistant Senate GOP leader Nancy Spence of Centennial.

"The fact that Colorado has been a pioneer in charter schools has landed us a cool $20 million," said Spence, the ranking Republican on the Senate Education Committee. "Maybe that will get the attention of the school-choice foes in the legislature since it doesn't seem to matter to them how much charters benefit at-risk kids."

Colorado was one of 10 states to receive one of the competitive grants under the federal department's Public Charter Schools Program. The program supports states' efforts to plan, design, implement and disseminate information about charter schools. The grant money will help the Colorado Department of Education create and sustain viable new charter schools, which already number well over 100 statewide.

A U.S. Education Department news release announcing the award noted that states seeking the funding must have a charter school statute in place and that priority is given to states that offer an alternative chartering agency -- like Colorado's Charter School Institute -- to give an option to charter backers turned down by local school districts.

In the news release, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings extolled the benefits of charters. “As I’ve traveled around the country, I’ve had a chance to visit many charter schools. These schools are breaking apart the myth that some children can't learn,” Spellings said. “By acting as laboratories for best practices, they are changing attitudes about education and they're getting great results for kids.”

Spence said the $20 million is a real boost to Colorado's charter effort, which is growing by leaps and bounds as parents seek wide-ranging alternatives to neighborhood schools for children whose needs run the gamut -- from remedial to gifted and talented. "We have had to fight just to get $5 million for charter school construction every year in the legislature," Spence said.

Spence also noted that some of the very features of Colorado's charter program that earned praise and cash from the feds, like the state's Charter School Institute, came under assault from anti-reform lawmakers. Senate Bill 61, by Democrats Sue Windels, of Arvada, in the Senate and Mike Merrifield, of Manitou Springs, in the House, would have effectively gutted much of the Insititute's authority to grant charters. However, the bill ran into stiff opposition from Republicans and dissenting Democrats on the Senate floor, and it ultimately died there after initially passing both legislative chambers.

Spence said despite charters' successes, their foes never seem to give up.
"Charter schools really dodged a bullet in the legislature, yet again," Spence said.








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