Last year the Minnesota Legislature imposed new requirements on the organizations that oversee charter schools. As a result, as many as 13,000 children may be forced back into district schools next year. Maybe the decision for the Minnesota Department of Education to get out of the business of serving as an overseer should be reconsidered.
A school in a public school district is overseen by a central office which in return is responsible to an elected school board. By contrast, a charter school is responsible to a board of directors, which usually includes parents of the students enrolled in the school. (They are of course responsible to parents generally, parents are free to pull children out of the charter school.) In addition, the charter school’s board is responsible to yet another organization, called a charter school authorizer.
The new law imposed new requirements on authorizers. As the Star-Tribune reports, the requirements have left some students in the lurch: “some authorizers, unwilling or unable to take on the task, plan to cut ties with their schools. Others have seen their applications rejected by the Minnesota Department of Education. Still others aren’t eligible under the new law, or are still getting ready to apply.”
Not every organization is cut out to be an authorizer. The St. Paul Public Schools, which has served as the authorizer for six schools, now says the law require “a level of capacity that we don’t have at this point.”
So what will happen to those children whose school loses its authorizer? Some may find a transition back to a district school acceptable, while others may find a spot at another charter school. But others won’t find the transition easy, and they may be shut out of an alternative charter school, since some of the best ones already have a waiting list.
The Department of Education already serves as an authorizer. It should extend its service in that role for at least another role. At the least, the legislature should grant a one-year reprieve. Solidifying the place of charter schools would help, too. One way to move in that direction is to help charter schools address their need for facilities.