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Charter school grad requirements

Published (3/23/2012)
By Erin Schmidtke
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Charter schools that teach a high number of struggling pupils could be exempted from some requirements in Minnesota’s No Child Left Behind waiver.

Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine) sponsors a bill that would group qualifying charter schools with alternative learning centers, which teach students who have difficulty learning in traditional schools. The state looks at these groupings to determine priority schools. Under the NCLB waiver, priority schools must design and submit turnaround plans to the state.

The House Education Reform Committee approved HF2801 March 15 and sent it to the House floor. Sen. John Harrington (DFL-St. Paul) sponsors the companion, SF2460, which awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.

The proposed change would affect how certain charter schools’ graduation rates are reported, removing what some charter school administrators are calling a long-standing disadvantage. Some charter schools specifically accept students who need additional help. Educators at these schools say that this effort to help students in need hurts their achievement scores and funding.

Paula Anderson, education director at the High School for Recording Arts, explained that her school takes in a large number of students who need additional help to graduate. These students are also frequently at-risk, having higher than average rates in areas like homelessness, which can impact their school performance.

David Ellis, the school’s founder, said that the current system punishes them for the kind of students they admit, not the results of the work they are doing.

“We’re fighting a crazy issue when we could be helping students succeed,” he said.

The bill received criticism from St. Paul Public Schools Legislative Liaison Mary Gilbert. She argued that, while charter schools like the High School for Recording Arts face challenges, the bill is unfair to public schools that also enroll students who have difficulty achieving success.

“If we’re going to do this, we should do it for all schools that qualify,” she said.

Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) said she opposed establishing different standards for public and charter schools. Woodard indicated that amendments to address this issue, as well as the bill’s consistency with federal law, may be forthcoming.

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