by Lonni Skentner
Minnesota Facilities: Charter schools may not own facilities, but they receive lease aid from the state. After 3 years of successful operation, a charter school may form a building partnership. That building organization may sell bonds and build or lease facilities with the proceeds and then lease said facilities to a charter school. There is no maximum percentage of budget set in law that a school may spend on leasing, but the aximum state aid is 90% of the cost of the lease not to exceed $1200 per pupil. There are strict statutory provisions that must be followed. The Minnesota Department of Education reviews and approves all leases.
Closures: Most of the charter school closures in Minnesota are the result of financial mismanagement, often related to facilities. Little issue with “for profit” management companies – lots of hoops – must be incorporated in MN whether for profit or non-profit (ex. KIPP). The Edison Project (for profit) has run a very successful school in Duluth since the fall of 1997, with a total enrollment of 1190 for the 2011-12 school year and 1257 for 2012-13 school year. Most of their test scores are higher than state averages. Representative student populations of special education, students of color and free and reduced lunch.
Management policy and issues: Accountability is the buzzword of the times. Even some “proponents of charter schools, say it’s too difficult to close down underperforming charters.” (Star Tribune 5/29/14). Most action falls on the charter school’s board of directors who, it appears, often whitewash the problems. Authorizers are supposed to be the watchdogs. Reformers are pushing a proposal for next year’s legislature to require the Minnesota Department of Education to take action when there are concerns about a charter school.
Resegregation: A new University of Minnesota study finds that charter schools in diverse suburban areas are growing “whiter”. (MPR). Myron Orfield, Director of the University of MN Institute on Race and Poverty, finds, in his studies, that charter schools “underperform their districted public counterparts and are driving the re-segregation of Twin Cities public school systems.” (2012 study) . Nearly 20% of MN charters openly appeal to “niche” groups – such as Somali, Hmong, Hispanic. There is an argument in progress as to whether this is a good or bad direction. (ex. 90 percent of black charter school students attended a racially segregated school in 2008, Orfield’s report claimed, compared to just under 40 percent of black students who attended segregated traditional public schools.) by Lonni Skentner