Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Creep (Yet Again!)

In 1994 when we were starting one of the first charter schools in Colorado, the district tried to say that we needed to use a lottery for enrollment. We vehemently objected to this. We contacted our State Senator who ran an amendment to the Charter Schools Act that says, "Enrollment decisions shall be made in a nondiscriminatory manner specified by the charter school applicant in the charter school application." Thus, the charter school used a waiting list for enrollment.

In about 1997 the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the federal Charter School Grant Program, began requiring the use of a lottery in order to get the startup and implementation grant most of the charter schools are dependent upon. The charter schools in Colorado that used a waiting list met with a representative of the U.S. department and explained why it didn't want to switch and couldn't be required to by state law. The feds were undaunted by their arguments and began requiring a lottery for all public charter schools receiving the grant. At first it was just a requirement and monitoring for enforcement was not required. It's now required for state's who provide subgrants to ensure that an equitable lottery process is in place for enrollment.

Not long ago the charter school governing board, at the school where the founders fought for the right to do a waiting list, decided to have the district do their enrollment. Parents selecting a school in the district list their options, ranked by priority. The district tells the charter schools which students they will be able to enroll the following year.

How does creep happen? By others becoming involved who don't understand the history or the philosophy of charter schools. They don't know what battles are worth fighting. And quite simply, they may have a different viewpoint. Many new charter school governing board members don't even know what the essential charter school philosophies are. Although many can identify choice or parental involvement, rarely do charter school board members understand the critical need for autonomy or complete control over finances and employees.

Creep doesn't happen by leaps and bounds. Instead it happens gradually--over time.

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