DENVER (AP) – Colorado Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer requested an emergency audit examining online K-12 schools Monday, citing “serious concerns” about student failure rates and programs that boost enrollment to get state funding.
Shaffer said in a letter to lawmakers on the audit committee that he would like the report completed before the Legislature meets in January and budget discussions begin.
GOP lawmakers on the committee immediately criticized Shaffer’s request because audits typically take about nine months to complete. They accused the Senate leader of political maneuvering because he is running for Congress against Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican incumbent in the 4th District.
“It kind reeks of grandstanding for a political campaign to me,” said Rep. Jim Kerr, a Jefferson County Republican on the audit committee.
Lawmakers will discuss Tuesday whether to proceed with Shaffer’s request.
“I will oppose anything that pushes a deadline on the auditors,” Kerr said. “They can’t be rushed.”
Sen. Scott Renfroe, a Weld County Republican on the committee, joked that he would consider running for Congress so he could get his audit requests processed quicker. Renfroe said Shaffer’s request “doesn’t seem reasonable at all.”
Shaffer was unavailable for comment Monday, the Democrat’s Senate press office said.
He said in the letter outlining his request that some online programs have student failure rates of more than 50 percent and that some students leave programs early. He said some programs lack appropriate oversight and in some instances maximize enrollment rates to get more state funding while having little or no plan for student retention or educational success.
Shaffer said the information came from the Colorado Department of Education and Online School Profiles of fall 2010. He said he wants an audit to determine how much it costs to run an online K-12 program, and whether the state should increase or decrease funding and how many programs are for-profit. He said he also wants to know what oversight the programs have and how Colorado’s online programs compare to other states.
Shaffer said in the letter that he recognizes that online programs can fulfill a legitimate need, “such as course offering being made available in rural parts of the state, and degree programs offered to students who help support their families or are otherwise unable to attend a traditional school.”
But he said that during a time when the state is cutting education funding, “we must ensure that every dollar of tax-payer money is spent efficiently and effectively.”
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)