School Choice & Charters

Minn. Adopts Mandate to Improve Charter School Oversight

By Caroline Hendrie — January 11, 2005 4 min read

Following the high-profile flameout last fall of a newly launched charter school, Minnesota education officials have announced policy changes aimed at sharpening the oversight skills of those charged with sponsoring and governing the independently operated public schools.

Key elements of the policy will be new training requirements, not only for the educators who actually run schools but also for their boards of directors and the entities that grant those boards their contracts to operate. In a move that charter observers say may be a national first, the state education department will make such training a condition of receiving money from the federal program that provides start-up grants for charter schools.

“It is possible that Minnesota is breaking ground here,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the associate assistant deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s office of innovation and improvement, which runs the charter school grant program.

Alice Seagren

State Commissioner of Education Alice Seagren announced the changes on Dec. 29, in response to the sudden failure of a charter school in St. Paul. The department shuttered the Colonel Young Military Academy on Oct. 31, less than two months after it had opened, amid plummeting enrollment and financial problems.

State officials attributed the failure to a breakdown in the supervision provided by the school’s board and the Minneapolis community center that chartered it.

The academy was the 18th charter school to close in the state, according to state officials. A few of those failures have yielded charges of serious mismanagement. Two weeks before the academy closed, for example, a couple that ran a St. Paul charter school closed in 2000 were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars to their personal use.

“The charter school movement is suffering with some of these closures and bad publicity,” said Bill Walsh, a spokesman for the Minnesota education department.

He said that Ms. Seagren, who strongly supported charter schools as a Republican state legislator before being named to her current post last summer, believes that the rules changes will help prevent such failures. While the rules had been in the works before the academy’s shutdown, Mr. Walsh added, the commissioner speeded up their implementation in part “to assure the public that charter schools are still a good option for their kids and an important part of the public school system.”

Eye on Accountability

Bucking a national slowdown in the growth rate of new charter schools, Minnesota has seen a steady climb since the nation’s first charter school opened in St. Paul in 1992. A total of 105 schools are up and running, and 33 more have been approved to open either next fall or in 2006.

Compared with many other states, Minnesota has an unusually broad array of charter school authorizers. Twenty higher education institutions and 14 nonprofit organizations have granted charters, in addition to 29 school districts and the state education department itself.

While the state has offered voluntary one-day orientation programs for charter school board members and sponsors in the past, state officials say that requiring multiday training will underscore that supervising a school is a serious commitment. Unless board members and sponsors attend the new programs before their schools open, state officials say they will withhold the $150,000 in federal start-up money that new schools can receive for each of three years.

Sponsors also will get a checklist for judging whether schools are ready to open. Staff members from the state education department and an outside sponsors’ assistance network will help authorizers determine several months before new schools’ opening dates whether they need more time.

In another move aimed at bolstering authorizer quality, the education department plans to renew an attempt to pass legislation that would allow for the formation of nonprofit organizations that are focused exclusively on sponsoring charter schools.

In addition, the department plans to conduct midyear reviews of all charter schools’ enrollments in a bid to head off financial crises that have arisen at some schools because of dramatic swings in their numbers of students.

Some critics of charter schools in Minnesota, though, are not satisfied with the new measures.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, a Democrat, was quoted in local newspapers as calling them “baby steps” that fall short of the improvements needed in charter school oversight.

But charter supporters in Minnesota and beyond are praising the policy changes, both because of their substance and the collaborative approach the state took to devise them.

“The superintendent kind of turned to the charter community and said, ‘Let’s see if we can improve the quality of the charter schools together,’ ” said Nelson Smith, the president of the Charter School Leadership Council, a national group based in Washington, “and that’s a really constructive response.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2005 edition of Education Week as Minn. Adopts Mandate to Improve Charter School Oversight

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty
Getty
School Choice & Charters Full-Time Virtual Schools: Still Growing, Still Struggling, Still Resisting Oversight
Nearly 500,000 students now attend full-time online and blended schools, says a new report from the National Education Policy Center.
6 min read
Student attending class from a remote location.
E+
School Choice & Charters Opinion Is Hybrid Home Schooling the Future of Education?
Rick Hess speaks with Mike McShane about hybrid home schooling, which combines the best of home schooling and traditional schooling.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters Oklahoma Charter Schools Granted Local Tax Revenue in 'Seismic' Settlement
A groundbreaking settlement will fundamentally change the way charter schools are funded in Oklahoma, despite vehement opposition.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
This July 19, 2019 photo shows an Epic Charter Schools office in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of an agreement with the state's public charter school association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
This July 19, 2019 photo shows an Epic Charter Schools office in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of an agreement with the state's public charter school association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
Sue Ogrocki/AP