The Colorado Supreme Court Monday declined to consider the Boulder Valley school board’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state Charter School Institute.
The Colorado Court of Appeals last March 19 rejected Boulder’s appeal of a lower court ruling against the lawsuit. Because the Supreme Court decided not to take the second appeal, the Court of Appeals ruling stands as the final word on the case.
“We’re delighted by the decision and expected it all along,” said Alex Medler, chair of the institute’s appointed board.
Ken Roberge, president of the Boulder school board, said in a statement, “Since 2004, several generations of the Boulder Valley Board of Education have been unanimous in their concern that the Colorado Charter Institute represents an attack on the principle of democratic accountability. The Charter Institute can, under certain conditions, locate and operate a charter school in a district regardless of the will of district voters and their locally elected school board. …
“We are disappointed that the Colorado Supreme Court has decided not to hear our arguments that the institute violates the state constitution. I would like to reiterate the issue in this case was not about the merit of charter schools, nor about the charter laws themselves. It was simply about the ability of the voters in a local school district to exercise direct control over the schools in their district through locally elected officials rather than to have decisions made through appointees at the state level.”
In a statement, House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, said, “I’m thrilled the Supreme Court decided not to consider the Boulder Valley School District’s claim. It is clearly within the legislature’s purview to expand education opportunity here in Colorado, and a ruling otherwise would have set a far-reaching and unfortunate precedent.”
Carroll was one of the authors of the 2004 law that created the institute, which is the governing agency for charter schools that aren’t authorized by local school boards. Under current law, charter applicants first must apply to school boards in districts that have been granted exclusive chartering authority, which includes all but nine districts. A board may approve a charter, deny it (in which case an applicant may appeal to the State Board of Education) or refer the applicant to the institute. The institute may directly consider applications from charter operators in districts without exclusive chartering authority.
In 2005 Boulder and two other districts sued the state, arguing that the institute law was unconstitutional because it gave the state board power beyond general supervisory control of schools, was an invalid exercise of legislative power and infringed on the state constitution’s guarantee of local control of schools.
The law gives institute schools state financial aid that otherwise would have gone to the district. (Districts keep the local revenue allocated to those students.)
Boulder currently has exclusive chartering authority and has no institute schools within its boundaries.
A Denver District court judge rejected the case in late 2006, and Boulder decided to take the case to the Court of Appeals. The other plaintiffs, Westminster and Poudre, dropped out of the case.
In a 2-1 decision, the three-judge appellate panel ruled, “We conclude that Boulder Valley has failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the creation of institute charter schools exceeds the State Board’s general supervisory powers … or infringes on its [Boulder’s] right of local control.”
The ruling rejected Boulder’s argument that the creation of schools is purely a local district function. Medler said the high court’s action – or lack thereof – “will settle that there are state-level interests in quality education.”
Medler also said the end of the case, and of the uncertainty surrounding it, will help the institute hire a new executive director and help strengthen the institute’s case for more facilities funding for its schools.
“We want to be partners with districts,” Medler said, noting that about half the institute’s recent applicants have come from within districts that have exclusive chartering authority.
The institute supervises 16 schools with about 6,000 students.
According to a March article in the Boulder Camera, the district spent nearly $200,000 on the case through the Court of Appeals stage. Lawyers did the work preparing the Supreme Court appeal for free.
Do your homework