Proposed MDE Charter School Policies Raise Concerns with Charter Leaders and Advocates

February 27, 2017 • Krista Kaput

Last Thursday, the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Education Innovation Policy Committee and the Senate’s E-12 Policy Committee heard testimony regarding the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) Policy Bill HF 1376/S.F 1222. While the bill covers several topics that affect public education in general, this post will focus on two of the concerns that were raised, regarding bill additions, that could negatively impact the state’s charter schools.

Concern #1: MDE Definition for Education Organizations

Brandie Burris-Gallagher, Policy Director at Ed Allies, provided testimony regarding her organization’s concern with MDE addition of a singular definition for education service providers (ESPs), charter management organizations (CMOs), education management organizations (EMOs), and school management organizations (SMOs) (Line 21.1 to 21.5).

Neither MDE nor state statute have definitions for these different organizations, but Burris-Gallagher argued that the proposed definition lumps them all together into a “one size fits all definition” that does not take into account that they each have different functions and purposes.

Eugene Piccolo, executive director for the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools (MACS), echoed Burris-Gallagher’s concerns. He also noted that Representative Erickson, chair of the Education Innovation Policy Committee, has authored forthcoming legislation that touches on the distinctions between the different organizations, and also calls for transparency with the contracts and accountability.

Concern #2: MDE Prohibits Contracts with Out of State Education Organizations

A bulk of the testimony disagreed with MDE’s proposal to prohibit charter schools from entering into contracts with for-profit and nonprofit entities—ESPs, EMOs, CMOs, and SMOs—that are not headquartered in Minnesota (Line 23.14 to 23.16).

Tierney Carroll, Board Chair of Loveworks Academy, a K-8 charter school located in North Minneapolis, and grandparent to two of its students, provided testimony on the positive impact that Distinctive Schools, a Chicago-based CMO, has had on their school’s turnaround process, which began this academic year.

Caroll explained that the Board chose Distinctive Schools because it had the infrastructure and offered the supports that Loveworks needed. She also indicated that early formative student data suggests that the turnaround is working, with students back on the road to become “academic scholars”.

She went on to express concern about what would happen if this legislation was passed, “If we are unable to continue our work with Distinctive as a result of this proposed legislation [then] the progress, the work that we’ve done as parents, as a community to assume responsibility for our students’ academic success would be undone.”

Testimony against MDE’s addition was also given by Therese Privette, executive director at North Metro Flex Academy, a new K-5 charter school in St. Paul. Flex contracts with Accel Schools, a CMO with over 25 schools nationally.

Privette explained that Accel helped Flex with building renovations, permits, kitchen and office equipment, curriculum, and everything they needed to open. She also highlighted some of positive things about working with out of state education organizations, “This has allowed us access to new ideas from across the country, [as well as] innovation and creativity that is not limited to the state of Minnesota.”

Privette concluded, “We are very concerned that, if this passes, that we will be shortchanging all of the students and the promises that we made to the families that we would be offering them an innovative quality school for their children.”

MDE Explains Bill Additions

MDE Assistant Commissioner Kevin McHenry explained that the addition of the definitions was an attempt to align the state’s definitions with the federal definitions, in order to ensure that they are in the “best position possible” to receive federal grants for charter expansion or start-up.

He also clarified that the prohibition of out of state for-profit and nonprofit organizations was to provide transparency with what is happening with public funds, as well as to ensure that charter school boards maintain a high level of decision making and accessibility for families.

McHenry acknowledged the concerns that were raised during testimony and concluded that MDE is open to continuing the conversation and finding solutions.

Representative Erickson thanked McHenry for MDE’s willingness to find solutions to the concerns because, “Charters are a great part of our public education.”

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

Found this useful? Sign up to receive Education Evolving blog posts by email.