Charter school changes?

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A pair of legislators plan to propose a new charter school moratorium until other changes are made.

That is one of nine reforms in the to-be-introduced 2009 School Reform and Accountability Act.

At a news conference, Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) said better oversight is needed to ensure that education dollars are spent effectively at charter and contract alternative schools.

“There have been enough concerns heard so that we need to take a closer look at what is going on,” Saltzman said.

In addition to problems in a legislative auditor’s report, Lesch cited a recent fraud at Center for Training and Careers, a contract alternative school in Minneapolis. In that case, the school operator billed more than $3 million from a private, for-profit company that he owned. The operator, whose wife worked for Minneapolis Public Schools, was never required to provide specific details as to what the resources purchased. He has since disappeared and the school closed.

“There is a growing need to crack down on waste and misspent resources in state government, especially with this budget deficit,” Lesch said. “Charter schools are an area where a lack of accountability has created a system ripe for mismanagement.”

Other reforms proposed include:
• approval of curriculum, budget and all administration contracts by a publicly elected body of the serving district;
• charter school administrators must be licensed, just as public school administrators must be;
• civil penalties for failure to submit annual independent audits as currently required by statute; and
• criminal penalties could be imposed for falsification of professional credentials, assets or other material facts made by developers or sponsors in an application or petition for certification.

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