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Charter Schools

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Charter Schools

What is a charter school?
A charter school is a tuition-free public school operated by an independent board of directors that may be composed of parents, teachers and community members. A charter school is a school of choice within the school district, operating under a contract or "charter" between the board of the charter school community and the DCSD Board of Education.
The "charter," as defined in the Charter Schools Act (Sections 22-30.5-101et. seq. C.R.S.), spells out the school's mission and vision, academic goals, performance standards, educational design, governance and operations. Charter schools generally operate free from from many of the regulatory requirements applicable to other public schools; however, charter schools operate under the charter philosophy of "autonomy in exchange for accountability." School-centered governance, autonomy, and a clear design for how and what students will learn are the essential characteristics of a charter school. Charter school students are still required to take all state-mandated standardized tests, just like all other public school students. In addition, charter schools must provide the appropriate levels of services to students with special needs, English language learners, gifted and talented students, and all other students admitted to the charter school.

Enrollment of Students with Special Needs in Charters 

There is a lot of misinformation about charter schools and their ability to serve students with special needs, including whether charter schools automatically exclude students with special needs. This is not the case.

As public schools, charter schools are required to serve students with special needs, just like any neighborhood public school. However, as with any other neighborhood public school, the charter school must be able to accommodate the student with special needs in order to provide an educational environment that will enable the student to thrive and be successful . It is important to remember that the needs of the student are paramount in selecting the school best suited to meet those needs.

Most charters in Douglas County run a lottery late in the year to randomly pull names from their wait lists for enrollment for the following year. These wait lists may contain the names of students with special needs, who should be given the same opportunities to enroll in the charter school, whenever the student’s needs can be met within the current framework of the charter school.

When the name of a student with special needs is pulled in the charter lottery, the charter school is legally required to ensure that it can provide the student with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) with reasonable modifications. The appropriate school team team will meet with the parent and the team from the student’s current school, if any, along with a District representative to determine if FAPE is available to the student at the charter school prior to final admittance to the charter school. This meeting is required by federal law to ensure that the student’s needs can be met in that setting.

In order to ensure that the student’s needs can be met at the charter school, an IEP team meeting will take place. If the team determines that FAPE can be provided at the charter school, the student will be enrolled at the charter school and the team will ensure that reasonable modifications are available to allow the student to be successful.

For more information, contact the DCSD Personalized Learning department.


History of Charter Schools in Colorado

In 1993 State Senator Bill Owens (R) and State Representative Peggy Kerns (D) introduced the original Charter Schools Act, which received bi-partisan support and was signed into law. The original philosophy of the Act was that charter schools would be smaller environments to experiment with educational programs and develop innovative ways to educate at-risk students.

In 1996 the Colorado legislature appointed an advisory committee to develop recommendations for improving the Charter Schools Act. Subsequent revisions were made to the Act in 1997 and 1998. One of the changes was to amend the legislative intent of the Act to include the phrase, “proven-to-be-effective educational programs,” as a pre-requesite for charter schools to operate. “Different pupils learn differently,” notes the Act. The Act seeks the creation of schools with "high, rigorous standards for pupil performance," with special emphasis on expanded opportunities for low-achieving students. The General Assembly sought "to create an atmosphere in Colorado's public schools where research and development in developing different learning opportunities is actively pursued.” Colorado Charter School Act.

The same year that Senator Bill Owens and Representative Peggy Kerns introduced the original Charter Schools Act (1993), the Douglas County School District became the first school district to authorize a K-8 charter school.

2018 Spring Cycle Charter Applications

2018 ASI Charter Application

PMA 2018 Application