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Minnesota Legislature

Charter schools reforms welcome

Published (3/6/2009)
By Kris Berggren
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Charter schools are here to stay, but a significant overhaul could happen soon.

A 2008 report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor recommended changes that would strengthen and clarify the ongoing responsibilities of school sponsors, improve their governance and fiscal accountability and clarify the Department of Education’s oversight role.

Sponsored by Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-Richfield), HF935 would implement the recommendations and make other changes that supporters say would result in the most significant charter school reform since Minnesota became the first state in the nation to authorize them in 1991.

“Charters aren’t going away; therefore, wouldn’t it make some sense to make them more responsive and more responsible and better in our communities?” Slocum asked. “This bill represents a lot of compromise and months of work. It’s good policy; it represents good government.”

The bill has garnered bipartisan support, but still sparked debate March 4 in the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee over several amendments.

One successfully offered by Rep. Sandra Peterson (DFL-New Hope) would prohibit a charter school from locating near a district school that was closed within the previous 36 months. It surfaced tensions about the relationship between charters and traditional schools. Some members perceive charters as healthy competition that gives parents freedom of choice. Others fear charters and district schools can become like mom’s house and dad’s house in a divorce, when students — and the education dollars that follow them — shift from one to the other while the responsibility for their academic performance is lost.

“What the Peterson amendment does is start to put a framework in place for ending the war and focusing instead on the kids,” said Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls).

Approved as amended, the bill now goes to the House Finance Committee. A companion, SF867, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury), is scheduled to be heard March 6 by the Senate Subcommittee on Charter Schools.

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