Colorado’s kids — still reeling from the blow dealt them by school closures during the pandemic — urgently need help with their learning.

The most recent achievement test scores show students continue to lag even their own underwhelming performance before COVID. It was troubling enough back in 2019, when testing revealed at most a third of students performed at or above grade level in math and English. Then, post-COVID scores released late last year turned out to be even lower.

It should have sounded an alarm for our state’s education policy makers, especially in the Legislature. Colorado’s parents, at least, got the message.

As reported in The Gazette last week, only 31% of respondents to a new survey by an education-advocacy group said they feel Colorado public education is headed in the right direction.

Survey respondents also seemed to know a way out of public education’s quagmire — through charter schools. No surprise there. Publicly funded, independently operated charter schools represent arguably the most popular education reform of the past half-century.

As The Gazette reported, the poll by center-right education-reform group Ready Colorado asked likely voters their opinion of charter schools. And the survey asked the question in two different ways — with and without an explanation of how charter schools are run.

Even before being told charter schools are tuition-free public schools with more flexibility to hire teachers and set curriculum, roughly half of respondents expressed a favorable opinion. After the respondents were offered the explainer, approval jumped to 61%.

Meanwhile, almost two of three respondents to the survey supported equal funding for charter schools. Under current state-local school funding mechanisms, charters get less.

Brenda Dickhoner, Ready Colorado’s president, was quoted in a statement accompanying the survey results:

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“School choice is incredibly popular among Colorado voters. … Voters across the political spectrum want to see not only equal funding for charter schools but believe families have a fundamental right to choose the best school for their child.”

Some 265 charter schools serve more than 134,000 students in Colorado, according to the Colorado League of Charter Schools. That’s over 14% of all children enrolled in public schools in the state. Ready Colorado’s findings reflect that popularity.

Charter schools aren’t a panacea for what ails all of public education. But they are an important part of the cure. Because they are free to design more intensive curriculum and set higher expectations for discipline, charter schools often provide an academically superior alternative to many neighborhood schools where student achievement has been abysmal. They can amount to a reawakening for kids who previously were disengaged from learning.

Achievement scores posted by charters are in many cases among the best in their respective school districts. In other cases, charter kids’ test scores at least represent improvement over those at the schools they left.

And some charter programs in school districts along the Front Range are among the academic leaders in the entire state.

We share the misgivings of survey respondents about the present trajectory of Colorado’s public schools — thanks especially to the current crop of policy makers in the Legislature. Yet, it pays to remember lawmakers of an earlier generation empowered the state’s parents with one of the best charter-school laws in the country.

It’s up to local school districts to approve the charters — some embrace them, some balk at them — and we urge voters to keep that in mind in their next school board election.

The Gazette editorial board

The Gazette editorial board

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