Debate Over Accountability at Minn. Charter Schools

Updated: 02/11/2014 6:46 PM
Created: 02/11/2014 5:30 PM
By: Brandi Powell

There’s a lot of debate lately on whether there’s enough accountability with charter schools in Minnesota.

The schools answer to what are called “authorizers.” Those are the entities that apply to the state to get a charter school up and running, such as a university or non-profit. KSTP looked into what’s at stake and why lawmakers are concerned and getting involved.

Right now charter schools and their authorizers are assessed by the Minnesota State Commissioner every five years. Is that enough? Or does more need to be done to monitor them? Tuesday at the Minnesota Capitol, state and local leaders met to discuss charter school activity.

To make sure all charter schools and their authorizers are more accountable, Senator Terri Bonoff says she will introduce a bill this legislative session. “This bill says that if you are in the lowest performing quartile, for three years in a row, an authorizer should shut down that school, or, submit a statement of why it shouldn’t be shut down,” Senator Bonoff said.

KSTP visited Venture Academy in Minneapolis. It’s a new charter school still in its first year. Venture Academy’s Executive Director, Jon Bacal, welcomes extra scrutiny by an extra entity.

“Look, we are spending public taxpayer dollars to provide kids a quality education, and that's true of all public schools in the state. We as school leaders need to be held to very high standards,” Bacal said.

Some leaders say the state needs to stay out of it.

In a statement to KSTP Eugene Piccolo said:

“The MN Association of Charter Schools believes that every charter school needs to be accountable for providing a quality education to every child it serves and that the role of the authorizer is to hold the school accountable for that quality. We oppose legislation that undermines the authority of authorizers to fulfill their responsibilities in holding schools accountable. The Association supported the reforms that require authorizers to demonstrate they have the capacity to do their job, and we supported giving them the resources to do their job, and the process of reviewing authorizers doing their job at least every five years, so our position is let authorizers do their job. If we are not going to let authorizers do their job then we probably should abolish the system of having authorizers of chartered public schools.”

Al Fan, Executive Director of Charter School Partners, says it might be effective to tailor the high standards to each individual charter school, depending on how long it struggles and which students it serves. He says five years is too long of a period of time to go in between assessments. Fan says they need to be more

More than 50 charter schools have been shut down across the state due to various issues including leadership and misappropriation of money.

According to the Department of Education, the first charter schools in the country opened in Minnesota in 1992. Right now there are more than 150 charter schools in the state. They serve more than 43,000 students. Charter schools do not charge tuition.



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