The State of Colorado is discriminating against little Emma Moody, a home-schooled third grader. Emma has lived in Colorado since she was born, and Emma’s parents pay taxes in Colorado. Emma is facing a type of discrimination that takes place in no other state in the nation. Emma is barred from enrolling in public school online education programs, but Emma’s younger brother, David, can enroll in a public online program at the kindergarten or first grade level. The discrimination does not begin until you are entering second grade.
Can such an injustice really happen in Colorado, a state that has embraced public school choice? The answer is yes. Four years ago, Colorado’s legislature passed a law that allows public school districts to create online education programs. The students complete their schoolwork from home using the Internet. These programs are supervised by the local school district and must meet state content standards; the students are also required to participate in the state assessment program called CSAP. When the law was passed, it excluded the enrollment of students who in the previous year had been enrolled in a private school or were home schooled.
This law, C.R.S. 22-33-104.6, very clearly states that school districts will not receive pupil funding for online students who were in the previous year enrolled in a private school or were home schooled. This 1998 statute causes blatant discrimination! These same students are welcomed with open arms into any other public school program including charter schools, magnet programs, or alternative schools.
There is a question if this discrimination is constitutional. The issue is currently before the Colorado General Assembly, with bipartisan support for ending the discrimination. Rep. Kelley Daniel (D-Golden) has sponsored a bill that is specific to this issue. Rep. Keith King (R-Colorado Springs) has included funding for these students in his proposed School Finance Act.
Both bills have a rocky road ahead. Attached to both bills is a fiscal note detailing the cost to the state for private school or home school students to enroll in public online programs. With a change to this law, financial accounting must be done.
It doesn’t matter that every year a good number of previously home schooled or privately schooled students enter brick-and-mortar public schools. It doesn’t matter that thousands of school age children will move into Colorado, with no prior educational history in Colorado at all, and the state will fund their education. When the first charter school legislation was passed, there was no fiscal note and there was no discrimination. Hundreds of children from private schools and home schools enrolled in public charter schools.
A number of families have found a way around this law. These students can enter the public school system so that the state pays for their education. Some have enrolled their children in a public school for one year so that the next year the children may be enrolled in an online program. Other students may be found warming a chair at a public school on the October 1st head count date, and then back home the next day doing their school studies at their dining room table. Either situation would qualify a student to enroll in an online program the next year. Colorado families should not have to jump through such hoops to gain equal access to a public school program.
Public online education programs have traditionally served students who have been expelled, were pregnant, or had work schedules that did not allow for attendance during normal school hours. Disabled students or students with severe illnesses also benefit from these program. Recently a new public school program under the auspices of the Academy of Charter Schools, Colorado Virtual Academy, went online and began serving elementary students.
The question is “Why did the original discriminatory law get passed?” When new and previously unfunded students enter the public school system every year, was the legislature’s concern really funding? Or was it the intent of the legislature to unfairly exclude these non-conformist students?
Copyright 2002, Independence Institute
INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.
JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.
PAMELA BENIGNO is the Director of the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center.
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