Wednesday, a Twin Cities charter school was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Minnesota chapter for allegedly violating the separation of church and state. Thursday, the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools announced the details of their proposed reforms to the framework legislation that regulates charter schools.
At the press conference announcing the proposed legislation, the Executive Director of the Association, Eugene Piccolo, said the timing of the two events – and a section of the legislation that bans “organizations with church status” from sponsoring a charter school – was just a coincidence. The bulk of the MACS proposal is focused on clarifying, overhauling, and regulating several aspects of charter school governance, including the relationship of a charter school to its sponsor.
To be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education, a charter school must have a sponsoring organization that is responsible for making sure the school meets state education standards, such as providing Special Education services. Current legislation, said Representative Jim Abler (R-Anoka) of the E-12 Education Oversight Committee, is vague on the ways a sponsor is responsible for a charter school’s success, and following the state Legislative Auditor’s report, charter school governance is a hot topic in St Paul.
“You’ll see three different flavors of bills this session,” Rep. Abler said in an interview on Wednesday – the MACS bill, a bill from the MDE, and other bills proposed by legislators.
Under the MACS proposal, sponsors will become known as “authorizers,” to more strongly convey their oversight role, Piccolo said. The proposal, Piccolo said, was based on two years studying the most common problems charter schools and their sponsors encounter. Other important points:
– All current and future sponsors/”authorizers” would have to go through an approval process governed by the Department of Education, beginning in the summer of 2010
– Sponsors/”authorizers” would be given dramatically increased funding for their oversight efforts, although specific forms of oversight are not spelled out. This money would be taken out of state aid to the school being supervised, and would not represent an increase in state funding
– Sponsors/”authorizers” would be reviewed by MDE every five years, and would be judged on how well the sponsored school is meeting the goals set out in its charter
– A charter’s board members would be required to receive financial and other training within 12 months of being elected to the board
– Conflict of interest rules would be tightened
– A 15-person council, drawn from school administrators, teachers, parents, and support groups, would be created to advise the Commissioner of Education on the implementation of these reforms
James Sanna (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and an intern covering education issues for the Daily Planet.