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Romer Signs Standards, Charter-Schools Bills in Colorado

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Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado has signed into law bills creating a new standards and assessments system in the state and allowing for the establishment of charter schools.

Passage of the bill setting higher standards for what students should know and be able to do was a victory for the Governor, who has been at the forefront of the national effort to create higher educational standards, serving as a past chairman of the National Education Goals Panel.

"We are starting a very major reform in education in Colorado,'' Governor Romer said during a bill-signing ceremony this month for the standards measure and the Charter Schools Act, both of which passed the legislature in May.

The standards law requires that the state and eventually each school district establish content guidelines in most curriculum areas, as well as new assessments to measure whether students meet the standards.

The measure establishes a nine-member council charged with recommending to the state board of education by August 1994 content benchmarks in reading, writing, mathematics, science, history, and geography. The panel will later develop standards for art, music, physical education, and civics.

The state board is required to consider the council's recommendations and adopt state standards by January 1995. The council will recommend new assessments aligned with the standards, which the board must adopt by January 1996.

The state board will also set a timetable for districts to adopt content standards by January 1997.

With enactment of the charter-schools bill, Colorado becomes the fifth state--joining Minnesota, California, Georgia, and New Mexico--to allow parents, teachers, and community members to establish experimental public schools free of most district and state regulations.

In addition, Massachusetts legislation authorizing charter schools is awaiting signature by Gov. William F. Weld. (See story, page 19.)

Interest is High

The Colorado bill was debated heavily throughout the legislative session in various versions.

"When the bill was introduced, it was primarily a voucher bill in disguise,'' said Deborah Fallin, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association. "We felt the language was so loose it would allow an existing private school to become chartered within a school district.''

The C.E.A. eventually supported the final bill, which bars sectarian and home-based schools and limits the number of charter schools statewide to 50.

The law allows charter-school organizers to apply to districts, which must consider the application. The organizers may appeal to the state board if the application is denied.

The state education department has received some 350 calls seeking more information about charter schools since the bill was signed into law, Ms. Fallin said.

Already, groups have approached districts with proposals for charter schools designed around themes of back-to-basics teaching, technology, and students at risk of dropping out.

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