Pushback on charter school contracts shows new divide on Denver school board

In an urban district nationally known for collaborating with charter schools, two new Denver school board members made clear last week that the publicly-funded but independently-run schools can expect resistance going forward.

“I’ve heard loudly and strongly from my constituents and many people in the community that they don’t want new charter schools in their communities,” said board member Carrie Olson, a former Denver teacher who represents the east-central part of the city.

The district needs to consider the impact of opening new charters in neighborhoods where the number of students is expected to decline, said Jennifer Bacon, who represents northeast Denver. A common criticism of charters is that they siphon students from traditional schools.

“It’s time we start drawing lines in the sand around our charter schools,” she said.

Bacon and Olson, whose school board campaigns were backed by the Denver teachers union, made their comments before the board voted to approve the contracts of five new charter schools set to open this fall and renew the contracts of 14 existing schools.

Members of the board majority who support charter schools responded by saying the district’s focus should remain on providing high-quality school options, regardless of the type.

“The bottom line is, this is about our kids, and this is about our families,” said board president Anne Rowe. “They have choice, and they make choices that serve their students the best.”

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit chalkbeat.org/co.

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