The Senate Education Committee held a workshop on March 11th on proposed bills for charter schools. The list of bills was organized by topic. Sue Legg, Chair of the League’s Education Committee, made a presentation to the committee. She focused on three of the Committee’s topics.
Here is an edited version of her remarks.
I am more than ecstatic that you are holding this workshop. Many of the issues you are taking up today were identified in the League of Women Voters study.
First of all, the League is not opposed to charter schools. We are in favor of good management. I have studied these issues for several years and run a national blog with contacts all over the U.S. I know some things other states are doing that can inform the discussion today.
Facilities. New York shares facilities between traditional public and charter schools. There is a problem or two. Charters there want to open in public schools that are already full. Some charters also duplicate programs in public schools rather than focus on unmet student needs.
Another facility concern has to do with profiteering, frankly. We did a study in Florida where legal documents showed a facility initially valued at over a million dollars. It was flipped three times. Air conditioning was added, and then it was valued at nine million. The building was leased by the management firm’s real estate company to the charter for over a million dollars per year. This is not unique to Hillsborough County; it is not unique in other places. Because of this problem, New York has banned for profit management companies as have several other states. That’s a problem you could consider.
You could also consider how Minnesota is managing facilities. Originally in Minnesota, the state owned all charter facilities. This became dicey, and the policy was revised to allow ownership, but the state approves leases. The lease amount is based on cost in a particular area so that you are not being extorted by excessive payments. Public schools have a similar regulation. Based on Florida charter audits, excessive lease payments for charters is a real problem.
Advisory Boards. We support requiring advisory board members be independent of charter management companies.
High Performing Schools. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has a list of high performing charter management companies. I have gone through them all. Some are truly high performing. KIPP is one of those companies. It has an excellent record, but it also has a student dismissal rate of 40 to 60%. Of course they will do well. High dismissal rates are real, and the problem is included in the bills you are discussing today.
If you address these three interrelated issues, we could have a great choice system.