Charter schools undermined by their own backers

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In 1991, conservative public policymakers made a compromise in their efforts to send public money to private schools in the form of vouchers.  Instead, Minnesota created charter schools. These schools would be independent, have fewer licensure regulations, have unelected boards, and extra state money (being unable to levy local property taxes).

Eighteen years later, the conservative policies that gave life to Minnesota’s charter schools may be their undoing.  In July, Governor Pawlenty wrote Minnesota’s public schools a $1 billion IOU of shifted payments. While traditional public school districts have the accounting expertise, budget reserves, and access to credit needed to keep the doors open; most charter schools don’t.  Coupled with the fact that 75 percent of Minnesota’s charter schools have at least one financial irregularity, it’s a recipe for disaster. As MPR recently reported:

Kate Barr heads the Nonprofit Assistance Fund, which works with banks to help charter schools find credit. She said early fall is usually when schools have the healthiest cash flow, but it drops off after that.

“I would hate to venture a guess, but I think there might be a very small handful of schools that have financial problems to start with, where this just might be the last straw,” Barr said.

Barr said the next two months will be telling.

Extreme conservatives have long been hostile to Minnesota’s world-class public school system. Ideas like vouchers, charter schools, and “No Child Left Behind” are intended to discredit public schools and the education opportunities they provide to students.

Now, the lax financial requirements conservatives put on Minnesota’s charter schools has collided head on with a conservative governor’s “no new taxes” IOU. Sadly, it’s Minnesota’s students who are caught in the middle.