The U.S. Department of Education recently announced their first Green Schools awards. Seventy-eight public schools were honored for their environmental impact, sustainability and "innovative school reforms."
It should be noted that the presumably now-healthy students in these Green Schools could be destined for a life of low achievement, underemployment and possibly even incarceration, but will undoubtedly have the satisfaction and peace of knowing they attended school in an environment that promoted recycling and a minimal impact on the environment.
As is the case with almost all education initiatives, there was data used to make the determination for which schools deserved this incredible distinction. For example, schools that now use rain barrels, previously-used pavement or off-grid solar power measured rainfall, tire pressure and iPad charge time, respectively. In the case of districts using school buses powered by used cooking oil for fuel, students who could correctly guess what type of food was made in the cooking oil were given a higher score.
The department's press release described the academic benefits for rope climbing, kayaking and other activities in their outdoor classrooms. In fact, reading "on the green" was used to enhance wilderness adventures. To ensure that school parents and communities were also involved in the green initiative, some schools posted "no idling" signs in parking lots and distributed garden produce to local shelters.
Students were prepared for growing up in the 21st Century by caring for bunnies, chickens, goats, fish and ducks. However, there was no mention of students learning about the anatomy and physiology of these animals in their Biology classes. One can only imagine these animals will also benefit from the enhanced green environment and live forever in their nurturing environment.
The one glaring omission from this press release was the hundreds of public schools deemed failing by the department and the hundreds of thousands of students attending these schools who cannot read or write on grade level. The effort put in to determining Green Schools meant that even less was being done for the students who have been failed by the public education system. Further, the message that everything is blissful as long as schools are recycling and minimizing their impact on the environment and therefore, focusing on getting students smarter isn't important, is part of the reason our nation is where it is today: performing significantly below countries that have clearly established the importance of a good education.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The current version of the School Finance Act, HB 1345, has an additional million dollars for charter school capital construction. The base of $5 million was all that was left in 2004 when a new administration cut funding previously added by then-Governor Bill Owens, the original Senate sponsor of the state's Charter Schools Act.
After all these years of the funding being whittled away by an increasing number of charter school students who all share in the finite amount, there is a plan to restore a small portion of the pot, which at one time was over $8 million.
Charter schools use this fund, Charter School Capital Construction, to pay for their capital needs. For most of the state's charter schools, it's the only money available for charter schools to use outside of their Per Pupil Revenue (PPR). Unlike school district operated schools, charter schools don't have access to bond funds obtained through ballot questions. If districts choose to include their charter schools in mill or bond questions, a charter school can receive these funds, but it is at the discretion of the local district if the charter school is included.
A million dollars is a small portion of what charter schools need to cover their capital needs in a manner comparable to their non-charter public school counterparts. However, it is certainly a step in the right direction!
Monday, April 9, 2012
Colorado-based New America Schools is opening a new charter school in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the fall. The school, which targets new immigrants and at-risk youth, operates schools in Lakewood, Thornton and Aurora. There is already a New America School in Albuquerque, making the Las Cruces site the second in the state.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
The Colorado Charter Schools Act (C.R.S. 22-30.5 et seq) doesn't specify what type of an entity can be party to a charter school contract. Although it's never happened in the state, a for-profit company would be permitted to charter with a school district authorizer.
SB12-067 requires that only nonprofits can charter. This could either be a founding board that has incorporated in order to start a new charter school or a charter management organization (CMO). CMOs are generally defined as nonprofit, differentiating themselves from for-profit, education management organizations or EMOs.
There are currently CMOs that have chartered directly with an authorizer in Colorado. While it's permissible for a CMO to hold individual charters, it's also possible for a CMO to oversee independent governing boards that hold the charter. There is no predetermined structure that's best. It's totally up to the authorizer and the charter school applicant.
SB 067 grandfathers in schools established before August 6, 1997 to accommodate charter schools that never incorporated and therefore became nonprofits. Some of the earlier charter schools considered themselves a public school and therefore getting separate nonprofit status was redundant. There has been differing legal opinions about this over the years. In recent years almost all of the newly established charter schools became nonprofits. In fact, the state Charter School Institute law requires nonprofit status for its schools.