Let's Find an Answer to Honor the True Spirit of the Innovation Schools Act

While we certainly have our challenges and plenty of room to grow, Colorado is a state blessed with a healthy variety of public school choice. Among the growing number of options are innovation schools, made possible by a bipartisan 2008 state law.

Colorado was the first state to implement innovation schools — something I have written about numerous times here. The idea is to provide greater freedom from burdensome state regulations, district policies and collective bargaining provisions by allowing individual schools to formulate proposals that give them greater autonomy and flexibility over decisions surrounding personnel, program and budget.

Of course, even the best education reform ideas encounter problems being put into action. As Education News Colorado reported last week, Colorado’s first three innovation schools (all based in the city of Denver — Manual High School, Montclair Elementary, & Cole Arts and Science Academy) have sought and received a formal legal opinion that school district officials are violating the Innovation Schools Act by refusing to relinquish control over key areas of budget and personnel.

Writing from up in Seattle, the Washington Policy Center’s Liv Finne has taken a close interest in this issue and notes in detail the extent of the problem. Among other things, she brings readers’ attention to an enlightening PowerPoint presentation created by Manual High School principal Rob Stein for a February event at WPC.

Looking at innovative advances like Cole’s possible partnership with the successful DSST charter school, there is little doubt this problem needs to be resolved quickly. Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg has given clear public statements in support of the innovation schools. What’s needed is to get all the parties together to sit down and decide how action can be taken that breaks through the inertia and bureaucratic morass to give schools like Manual and Cole the freedom and accountability they are seeking to serve the high-need students who come through their doors.

One of Boasberg’s right-hand administrators Kristin Waters (former principal of Bruce Randolph School, which effectively pioneered the Innovation Schools Act), chimed in last Thursday with a blog post stating the district’s support of some general principles for providing services and dollars to innovation schools. But officials also need to decide and more clearly state which specific funds should be administered by the offices on 900 Grant Street and which funds should be administered at the individual school level.

You can bet my Education Policy Center friends and I will continue to keep our eye on this situation and provide the kind of reporting and analysis that helps to ensure Colorado’s innovation schools can operate according to the full spirit of the 2008 law. Please stay tuned….