The Colorado State Board of Education is getting more authority to reject waiver requests

Last year, the state board began raising concern over the quality of so-called “innovation plans” submitted to them by some of the state’s lowest-performing schools.

Students at University Prep, a Denver Public Schools charter school, worked on classwork last winter. (Photo by Marc Piscoty)

By Nicholas GarciaChalkbeat

Colorado schools and districts seeking flexibility from state law will need to make a more compelling case after state lawmakers Tuesday gave the State Board of Education greater authority to reject such requests.

Last year, the state board began raising concern over the quality of so-called “innovation plans” submitted to them by some of the state’s lowest-performing schools. State law allows schools to submit plans to obtain waivers in an effort to boost student achievement.

The state’s innovation law, written in 2009, was inspired in part by charter schools, which receive a number of waivers from state laws.

State board members felt powerless to reject innovation requests — even if they had concerns about the viability of the school’s plan — because of how ambiguously the law was written. The board and its lawyers believed they could only reject the request if the plan would cause harm to students, or was not financially sound.

With the passage of House Bill 1271 — sponsored by state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, and state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican — schools seeking innovation status must now prove to the state that the plan will “enhance educational opportunity, standards and quality” at the school.

Lawmakers did not, however, give the state board all it requested.

As introduced, the bill would have allowed the state board to revoke a school’s waivers if the state felt the school was not making good use of its waivers. The House of Representatives stripped that authority out of the bill.

Only local school boards, which must also approve the waivers, have the ability to revoke waivers.

The change, which goes into effect Aug. 9, only applies to requests submitted under the state’s innovation law.

Schools and districts also may apply for waivers from individual laws through a different process. The state board already has greater authority on whether to accept those requests. Some critics of the board have raised concern that the board has been uneven in granting such waivers, especially those around kindergarten readiness.

The bill now must be signed by the governor.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.