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Where Will The Children Go?

January 10, 2011 By Valerie Ong, Education Fellow

A recently passed state law has some Minnesota charter school authorizers scrambling to meet new financial oversight and accountability requirements. There’s anticipation this could cause up to 15 charter school closures over the next year, leaving the question: Where will those students go?

Before we answer that, let’s explore what prompted the new regulations. Several studies conducted around charter schools’ financial status have indicated insufficient oversight and accountability prerequisites. In response, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law that sought to provide “additional oversight of charter school administration, operations, and finance.”

To open, charter schools must be granted a charter by an organization or operator referred to as the "authorizer." The new law requires authorizers to demonstrate their own financial capability, have adequate staff necessary for the school, provide academic benchmark measurements, and detailed management plans by the end of this June.

Minnesota has nearly 50 authorizers--overseeing 149 charter schools--which all had to reapply with the Minnesota Department of Education to maintain their status, according to a Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) report. As many as one-third of charter school authorizers had to withdraw from their positions because they couldn’t meet the new standards.

As of December's end, MPR reported 85 charter schools had approved authorizers, leaving 64 schools without an authorizer. As a result, Asad Zaman, Executive Director of the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) anticipates as many as five to 15 charter school closures over the next year. This is a significant number given there had been only 29 charter school closures as of February 2009 since the first school opened in 1992.

Should this closure prediction materialize, what will happen to these children? This is a question worth considering by anyone and everyone concerned about education in Minnesota.

1. Students leave the education system. Schools serving at-risk students—expelled, homeless, and traditional school drop-outs—are those most likely to shut down, according to Leisa Irwin, President of the Coalition for Charter School Management. She believes their authorizers will not be reapproved because schools serving these populations tend to have low academic success rates.

In many cases, charters were a last resort for at-risk students. Those expelled have no traditional home school which to return. Homeless students might not have access to the resources to reach out to new school.

2. Students face multiple disruptions. School closures may cause social, emotional, and academic disruptions. Eugene Piccolo, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools suggests that students might face emotional challenges as social relationships dissolve, and routines break. Furthermore, students face academic disruption as they have to readjust to new curriculum, new classroom settings, and teaching styles and methods.

3. Students move to traditional public schools or other charter schools. Many students will move back to their home school district, as state law provides access to K-12 public education. Other students might seek placements in different charter schools.

4. Students seek other forms of education. Some families may look to homeschooling. However, this option is limited to those with the financial means necessary for a parent to stay at home and homeschool a child. Some students select the option of online learning.

Traditional schools that take in students as a result of school closures also bear a burden that comes with a large influx of students. Similarly, families of students face challenges adjusting to their children’s new schedules, school environments, and other changes.

Multiple charter school closures will be disruptive, even detrimental to education. While new regulations will frustrate some parents and educators, legislative action to improve financial oversight and accountability was necessary to protect public investment in charter schools.

Better internal oversight should have been in place at the begining. Moving forward we need to ensure the best policies are in place at the start so that students don’t lose out on educational opportunities.

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  • Leslie Hittner says:

    January 10, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Charter school operators were generally in favor of the changes in the law but I don’t believe they thought the implementation would go so poorly.

    First, it should be made clear that many former sponsors have not applied to become authorizers not because they “couldn’t” meet the new standards but rather because they chose not to. Second, for whatever reason the process that MDE put in place has not allowed authorizers to come on board in a timely manner.

    The final dates for this process to be completed need to be delayed.