I've been going through the list of charter school appeals to the State Board of Education and came across some interesting findings.
First, Denver Public Schools (DPS) has the most appeal cases with 19. To put that into context, Jeffco has 17, Aurora seven, and Adams 12 five. This is out of 132 appeal cases.
Second, there were two years, 1994 and 2006, when there were the highest number of appeals: 14. The high number of appeal hearings in 1994 makes sense because that's the first year the Charter Schools Act was in effect and there were numerous charter school applications that year. The high number in 2006 is harder to explain. It was the year after the Legislature adopted the Charter School Institute Act, which created the state's alternative authorizer. However, probably the most noteworthy piece in the data is that the number of appeal hearings dropped precipitously after that so that in 2008 there were only three hearings and in 2009 only one. This can easily be explained by the state's development of the standard application and model contract language. Both of these documents, for the first time, explained what was acceptable practice for charter school applications and charter contracts.
Another interesting point is the number of charter schools that never open even after a successful appeal to the State Board. The vast majority of appeal hearings are from brand new charter applicants; however, the law also allows an existing charter school to appeal "gross imposition of conditions" or issues with which the two parties disagree. Further, the vast majority of appeals are only heard once by the State Board. Even if the charter school wins a remand, most of the time the parties settle their differences and it doesn't go to the State Board for a second appeal. But when there is a second appeal and the State Board orders a local district to open a charter school, only a small number of those schools actually open.
It's also interesting to note that in 1994 there were more appeal hearings than charter schools that were approved to open. There were 14 appeals, but only 11 charter schools opened. Again in 1995, when there were 10 appeals, only 10 charter schools opened. In the early years of the Charter Schools Act, there was a high number of appeals and not many schools opening. But the law was also under pilot status until 1998 when the sunset provision was lifted.
This year there have been four charter school appeal hearings and none others scheduled for hearing at this time. Of the four, three of the cases are from Denver. The State Board ruled in favor of Northeast Academy and Monarch Montessori in February. However, the March hearing of Life Skills High School went in favor of the district on a 4-3 vote.
The appeal provision of the Charter Schools Act is one of the tenets that makes Colorado's law rank strong on national studies of charter school laws. It allows any applicant that has been denied, to bring their case to the State Board of Education for a quasi-judicial proceeding. In Colorado, the State Board has historically ruled with the district about half of the time and with the charter school half the time.