MN House of Representatives Briefed on Charter Schools

Yesterday, the Minnesota House of Representative’s Education Finance Committee, chaired by Representative Loon, convened to hear an overview on Minnesota charter schools. This was the first time since 2009 that the Committee had a meeting dedicated to the state’s charter schools.

The meeting began with testimony from Ember Reichgott Junge, a former democratic state senator and author of the state’s original 1991 charter school law.

Junge provided an overview of the history of chartering and made the point that the original law received bipartisan support and was the middle ground to the more extreme option of school vouchers. She also highlighted that, "The original purpose of charter schools was to give schools autonomy, in exchange for more accountability, so they could innovate and try new things”.

Next, the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) Assistant Commissioner, Kevin McHenry, provided testimony regarding the different oversight roles of MDE’s Charter Center and charter authorizers. MDE approves and evaluates authorizers, reviews authorizer-charter school contracts and affidavits, and manages the complaint process. However, they are hands-off in dealing with individual charter schools. Rather, it is the responsibility of authorizers to hold the charter schools accountable, establishing outcome-driven contracts and providing support.

McHenry also gave an overview on the $28 million in federal Charter School Program (CSP) funds MDE received in 2012, for charter school start-up and expansion/replication grants. Data provided by McHenry illustrated that, in the five years the federal CSP funds had been awarded, MDE had received 95 applications and given out 49 awards, totaling about $14 million.

Finally, testimony was given by Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools (MACS). Piccolo provided clarification on the charter school boards explaining that, under state law, every board member must attend annual trainings throughout their term and new members must attend training on “the board’s role and responsibilities, employment policies and practices, and financial management.” If a board member fails to comply, then they are ineligible to serve on the board.

Piccolo also spoke on the topic of charter facilities. Under state law, charter schools are not able to own facilities but, since 2010, MACS has proposed legislation that would allow charter schools to have direct ownership of their facilities if they met several criteria including financial stability and good academic performance.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on topics relating to charter schools and innovation throughout this session.

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