Thursday, February 25, 2010

Voyage to Charteria. Both the House and Senate spent a considerable amount of education-related committee time on charter school issues today. The Senate dove into SF 2716, a bill authored by Senator Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) that would revise a number of provisions relating to state charter school law. The primary area of concern to legislators is the use of affiliated building corporations and the construction of facilities for charter schools. These corporations enter into agreements to construct facilities to be used by charter schools, who then pay the corporations with their lease aid. There are myriad problems with this arrangement, greatest of all is that the state has little, if any, oversight of the construction of the facilities.

This leads to the most controversial portion of the bill, the provision that would allow charter schools to own their own buildings. A strong case can be made that charter schools should not be allowed to do this, but allowing them to own buildings after meeting a number of criteria set forth by the state and under the direction of the Minnesota Department of Education, is clearly an improvement over the current situation.

From my perspective, the real problem with this whole set-up is that since the formal tie between school districts and charter schools was broken asunder when charter schools were given the opportunity to "shop" for authorizers and sponsors instead of having to work through the local school boards in which the charter school is located. Ever since, charter schools--and the unelected boards that govern them--have been making decisions with far less scrutiny than that experienced by school boards. This has led to a number of issues with financial mismanagement and the aforementioned building issues. Further, it's hard to say that most charter schools have delivered in terms of academic achievement.

The building ownership issue takes things one step further, as non-elected boards will be making decisions to own buildings without being forced to take the decision to a vote in the manner that a non-charter school district must. Voters in school districts stand as a protection in terms of local building decisions and assume the financial risk of the decision. What will happen in the event a charter school closes and leaves the state with the bill remains to be seen, but it's a question that needs to be answered before the decision on whether or not the building ownership goes forward.

There are other provisions in the bill, particularly one that would allow school districts to take the test scores from charter schools and include them with district scores for AYP purposes.

Link to SF 2716: http://

The House dove into several bills, one of which would allow school districts to charge charter schools and private schools for unreimbursed transportation costs. While private schools receive revenue and charter schools receive the full basic formula amount (which includes money for transportation) to assist with transportation costs, often times the costs incurred by school districts in providing transportation to private schools and charter schools exceed the revenue set aside for it. Representative Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) is the chief author of HF 2910, a bill that would allow (but not force) school districts to charge for the excess cost of providing transportation to private and charter schools.

This bill clearly rankles the charter school and private school community, which is understandable. But the fact remains that there is a funding gap between the services provided by public schools in terms of transportation provided to private and charter schools. The issue that I brought up in my testimony for the bill was that this is another issue that could have been more easily solved if the categorical formula for transportation had been retained instead of rolled into the basic formula in 1995. The final chapter hasn't been written on this bill and it will be interesting to see how the discussion continues.

Link to HF 2910: http://

Representative Mark Buesgens' (R-Jordan) HF 3003 was also discussed. Buesgens' bill would distribute revenue to schools based on pupils served as opposed to school districts on the basis of resident pupils. This would provide the $29 per pupil unit that each school district received last year to charter schools as well as school district. Districts with high numbers of charter school students would see their share of permanent school funding reduced. The revenue shifts for school districts is quite small except for Minneapolis, which would lose eleven dollars per pupil.

Link to HF 3003: http://

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