Updates and Insights: Vol. 1, No. 4

Mailing Date: 
May 17, 2005
Education/Evolving
Vol. 1, No. 4May 17, 2005Jon Schroeder, Editor

Welcome to the fourth edition of Education|Evolving’s new electronic newsletter -- UPDATES AND INSIGHTS.

IN THIS ISSUE:
INTRODUCTION TO AN IMPORTANT NEW INTERNET RESOURCE ON CHARTER SCHOOL AUTHORIZING

Education|Evolving is pleased to announce he launch of a new Web site expanding on the work of the Minnesota Sponsors Assistance Network. The Network is a cooperative venture of Education|Evolving and the Office of Choice and Innovation in the Minnesota Department of Education. It is funded out of the administrative portion of Minnesota’s federal charter school grant and is directed by Bob Wedl, an E|E associate and former Minnesota Commissioner of Education. To access the new Sponsor Network Web site, click here.

While of greatest relevance to Minnesota’s charter authorizers and schools, the new Web site also includes resources that could be used or adapted by authorizers, education officials, charter leaders and others in all states with charter school laws. The Minnesota Sponsor Assistance Network could also serve as a model for similar capacity building and quality enhancement initiatives in other states. For more on the mission and goals of the Network, click here.

Here, also, are quick links to the new Web site’s resources, guides and other reports, contact information for Minnesota charter school sponsors, and upcoming state and national events of interest to authorizers.


MINNESOTA USING LEGISLATIVE AND NON-LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVES TO STRENGTHEN CHARTER SPONSORS

The new E|E Web site is just one of a number of initiatives now underway to strengthen Minnesota’s diverse cadre of chartered school sponsors. These initiatives reflect growing awareness of the critical role that sponsors can play in strengthening the governance, management and performance of chartered schools -- with the ultimate goal of improving the academic achievement of their students.

A number of these sponsor-related initiatives were announced several months ago at a press conference called by Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren and also attended by a number of leaders in Minnesota’s chartered school movement. The Minnesota Sponsor Assistance Network was represented by its director, Bob Wedl. To view the Department’s press release announcing the new initiative, click here.

Since Commissioner Seagren’s announcement, several legislative proposals have been introduced and other non-legislative initiatives have been launched. They include:

Proposed legislation (for a more detailed summary, click here.)
  • HF 1303 (Dean) and SF 1707 (Kelley) -- Authorizes creation of up to five new single purpose sponsors.
  • HF 60 (Greiling) and SF 1417 (Skoe) -- Removes Commissioner as sponsor on appeal -- allows Department to focus on broader sponsor and school oversight
  • HF 1945 (Charron) -- Requires upfront assurances of sponsor intent and evidence of awareness and capacity to perform sponsor functions; clarifies process for voluntarily changing sponsors; authorizes study of sponsor revenues (No Senate companion)
  • HF 92 (Latz) and SF 145 (Kelley) -- Authorizes Perpich Center for the Arts to sponsor charters

With the exception of the proposal to authorize the Perpich Center for the Arts to grant and oversee charters, the other proposals are all included in the K-12 omnibus education bill that’s passed the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now pending before a House/Senate Conference Committee.

Non-legislative initiatives (State Department of Education and Sponsor Assistance Network)
  • New mandatory sponsor training requirements by Department
  • New mandatory board training requirements by Department
  • Overall partnership between Department and Sponsor Assistance Network (resource guide, other printed materials, workshops, technical assistance, web site) A number of these materials are available online, click here.
  • "Cadre" of experts available to sponsors through Sponsor Assistance Network (legal, financial, governance, curriculum, assessment, etc) For a list of the cadre members and information on how to access them, click here.
  • Recommended school opening checklist for sponsor oversight during pre-opening year
  • Explicit decision by mid-summer determining readiness of schools to open by Department and sponsors

SINGLE PURPOSE SPONSOR PROPOSAL FATE NOW RESTS WITH MINNESOTA HOUSE-SENATE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE

Minnesota legislators have an opportunity this session to enact a proposal designed to help the state maintain its leadership position nationally on education innovation. The proposed legislation would allow Minnesota’s Commissioner of Education to authorize up to five new non-profit organizations to sponsor and oversee chartered schools.

This is an expansion on Minnesota’s current statutory provision allowing non-profit organizations to grant charters. The difference is that these new sponsors will be explicitly designated by the Commissioner and -- as new organizations -- would not need the $2.0 million in assets required of the state’s other non-profit sponsors. These new sponsors would also be unique in three ways:

First, they would be single-purpose. Unlike other charter authorizers in Minnesota, these new sponsors would have no other mission or purpose than granting and overseeing chartered public schools.

Second, they would be specialized. Each new sponsor would specialize in at least one area, selecting varying types of schools, geographic areas or student populations to focus on. For example, one of the new non-profit sponsors might focus on schools with a particular learning or governance model; another might focus only on rural schools or on schools designed to address the state’s huge racial and demographic learning gaps; a third might focus on distance learning schools or schools linking high school with college.

Third, they would be proactive. The new non-profit sponsors wouldn’t simply sit back and wait for proposals. Within their areas of specialization, they would be actively encouraging proposals -- perhaps putting out RFPs for a particular type of school that will allow them to choose the best proposals submitted. These sponsors would look both locally and nationally for outstanding models that deserve to be replicated -- and then invite them to apply.

Why not just add more non-profit or other sponsors under current law?

While Minnesota has a fairly large number of active sponsors, it’s important to recognize that all of the existing charter sponsors in Minnesota have broader institutional missions. That’s true for districts running their own schools, higher education institutions serving their own students or other non-profit organizations carrying out their main lines of business -- in health care, social services, environmental protection or other fields outside K-12 education.

As a result -- and although there will be exceptions -- the large majority of non-district sponsors are likely to grant no more than a handful of charters. In addition to limiting overall growth in chartering, this also denies existing sponsors the opportunity to achieve economies of scale -- as well as the kind of specialization, expertise and pro-activity that is central to the proposal now being considered.

With these built-in institutional limitations, it seems prudent to now supplement Minnesota’s existing sponsorship arrangements with a new cadre of organizations created just for this purpose, and with the encouragement to specialize and be proactive. These new types of sponsors -- working along-side existing sponsors -- will meet the state’s growing demand for chartering. And they will develop new models for chartering and oversight that will add significant value to the charter movement nationally.

Of course, creating these new sponsors does not mean we should neglect those we already have. More than sixty Minnesota school districts, higher education institutions, non-profits and other eligible sponsoring organizations have now granted one or more charters. They need to be supported and strengthened and encouraged to continue to grant additional high quality charters as they are proposed.

How would the new single-purpose sponsors be created and funded?

The proposed legislation authorizes the Commissioner of Education to authorize up to five new non-profit organizations to grant and oversee charters. The proposals would have to include the articles of incorporation, by-laws and initial board membership of the organization, how they would be financed and their areas of specialization. Presumably the Commissioner would establish criteria for consideration and approval of these proposals in areas such as board composition, conflicts of interest and financial solvency. Financial reporting requirements of all Minnesota non-profits would also apply, as would the state’s open meeting law.

The proposed legislation also includes a provision that allows the Commissioner to terminate these sponsors’ authority for serious violations of state law. Finally, no direct state appropriation is being proposed for the start-up of these new sponsors. Long-term, it’s presumed that they would be self-supporting, through fees, grants or other non-state sources.

What is the single purpose sponsor proposal NOT intended to do?

First, it’s not intended to "make it easier" to receive a charter and open a new chartered school in Minnesota. If anything, these new sponsors are intended to be more rigorous and more selective as they consider proposals, provide ongoing oversight and make decisions about renewals.

Second, the single purpose sponsors are not expected to produce a net increase in the number of new charter schools being approved. For a variety of unrelated reasons, Minnesota is already experiencing a surge in interest in charter schools and chartering. This initiative is intended to make sure this interest is channeled into high quality, high performing schools and that chartering is done on a more proactive and strategic basis to address the state’s highest priority needs with learning models that will have the greatest possible chance of success.

Third, the new single purpose sponsors are not intended to eliminate or reduce the need for existing sponsors. Separate, equally important initiatives are under way to strengthen existing sponsors and to encourage eligible organizations that have the capacity and willingness to grant and oversee charters to do so.

Fourth, this proposed legislation is not intended to create new bureaucracy or to place a financial burden on state government. It is anticipated that these will be very lean non-profit organizations making extensive use of contracting and other flexible means of engaging much of its needed staff expertise. As noted above, the proposal also assumes that the initial start-up of these sponsoring organizations will come from non-state funding sources. Long-term, it’s expected that they would be self-sustaining through some combination of grants or fees charged to schools or even other sponsors who choose to use their services.


MINNESOTA SPONSOR NETWORK LAUNCHES NEW QUALITY SPONSORSHIP TASK FORCE

Finally, with support and encouragement from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a new Quality Charter School Sponsorship Task Force has recently been named. Members of the Task Force include representatives of several charter sponsors, school directors and board members, Department of Education officials and individuals with experience in designing and implementing quality initiatives in other fields. The purpose of the "Quality Charter School Sponsoring Task Force" is:

  1. Identify the indicators for quality charter school sponsoring in Minnesota;
  2. Specify the criteria that defines each indicator;
  3. Identify the incentives for why a sponsor would want to meet the quality sponsoring indicators;
  4. Develop a process by which sponsors can ascertain whether they are meeting these quality indicators;
  5. Suggest ways for initiating the process with sponsors.

For more information on the Task Force and list of its members, click here.


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