Minneapolis Charter Schools – Working Together to Promote Charters

Among its many activities the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, an office of city government, regularly coordinates meetings of charter schools located in the City of Minneapolis to discuss issues common among the charters in the city.

Last Tuesday, a  number of the 38 charter schools in Minneapolis came together under the auspices of the Youth Coordinating Board to discuss preparations for the Pre-K-12 Minneapolis School Fair Showcase that will be held on January 31, 2015 from 9:00 am – 2:00 pm at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The annual event is great opportunity for schools to showcase their programs and for parents to learn the wealth of educational choices that exist in the city.

The School Fair which includes both Minneapolis Public Schools, and charter schools in Minneapolis is a good example of cooperation that can exist between traditional districts and charter schools when kids and parents are put first.

New Resources for Charter School Boards

At the Annual Membership Meeting on Wednesday, December 3rd the Association released five (5) new resources for Charter School Boards.

Board Member Manual/HandbookRecommended Content and Checklist
Charter School Board and Committee MinutesA Primer
• A Sample Policy and Procedures for Public Comment Periods at Board Meetings
• A Sample Agenda for Regular Board Meetings and a Sample Agenda for Closed Meetings
• The 4th in the series – Questions? Charter School Boards of Directors Should Ask AboutPersonnel and Human Resource Management

All of these new resources are available to member schools in the Board Governance Section on the MACS Website.

http://www.mncharterschools.org/iqa-initiatives/board-governance.php

Rep. Sondra Erickson – Incoming Chair of the House Education Innovation Policy Committee Headlines Association Public Policy Forum

Last Wednesday, Rep. Sondra Erickson, the incoming Chair of the House Education Innovation Policy Committee spoke at the Association’s Winter Public Policy Forum. We appreciate the fact that she spent the entire afternoon at the event. In her remarks Rep. Erickson shared her perspective on a number of issues in the proposed MACS Public Policy Platform and answered a number of questions posed by Forum attendees.

COMMENT – Rep. Erickson, who will begin her 9th term in the legislature has been a consistent supporter of charter schools.

Participants also heard Rose Hermodson, Assistant Commissioner – Office of Innovation, MDE give a presentation on the soon to be released draft of the proposed new Integration Rule. The new proposed rule would require charter schools to comply with the new Integration Rule. The rule making process is expected to take between 12- 18 months.

COMMENT – The proposed new rule is in response to the 2013 legislature rewriting the Integration Law. Charter schools, as schools of parental choice were exempt from the 1999 Integration Law and Rule and they were not mentioned in the new law.

As soon as the proposed rule is published for public comment we will be convening schools across the state for a discussion to determine how we should respond to the proposal.

Association Testimony at 12/8/2014 – Senate Early Childhood Education Hearing

In brief testimony at the Senate Hearing on Early Childhood Education on Monday I made the following points:

First, that charter schools were appreciative of the legislature’s efforts to assist families that do not have the financial means to obtain early learning opportunities for their children, especially since many of those families attend charter schools. Pointing out that charter schools have a much higher percentages of low income and ESL students than the statewide averages.

Second, that 10% of charter schools now offer state approved Pre-School or Pre-K programs and that there are a number of others who have submitted or are developing applications for programs to serving these young learners.

Third, that there are some issues that need to be addressed that impact families who attend these programs at charter schools if we are concerned about seamless programming for students.

1] While the charter school law was amended last year to clarify that charter schools could operate Pre-School/Pre-K programs,  these programs are still considered auxiliary programs outside of the charter. Given that status, we ask the legislature to amend the charter law to redefine that a charter school could be Pre-School – grade 12. Without a change in the law, students in charter school Pre-School or Pre-K are not considered enrolled in the charter school, since those programs are considered a separate entity form the charter school and thus those children may have to go in the lottery to get into the school.

2] Last year’s provision that provided that if a child attended a Pre-School or Pre-K program for free that they would have an enrollment preference in the kindergarten program of the charter school. When the legislation was enacted it was understood that the student was attending the program free, not that that program has to be offered free to everyone for the preference to apply, which is how it has been interpreted. Given this interpretation, we ask the legislature clarify that the low-income enrollment preference is for students who attend a Pre-School or Pre-K program for free or on an early learning scholarship, not that the entire program has to be free.

Finally, school directors have indicated that these programs need sustainable funding and that the early learning scholarships do not cover the cost of the programs. Given that, we ask the legislature to increase the dollar level of scholarships and look at how to sustain these programs in the future.

Senate Education Committees Joint Hearing on Early Childhood Education

On Monday December 8th the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committees held a joint hearing on the status and future of Early Childhood Education in Minnesota.

Highlights from the hearing:
• MDE sharing a common definition of kindergarten readiness;
• An economist calling for creating a permanent endowment fund to provide ongoing funding for early education scholarships;
• Researchers reporting on the effectiveness of Minnesota’s Reading Corps program;
• Early childhood program providers testifying that programs are making a difference, yet the need is beyond current capacity;
• Policy advocates urging more and sustainable funding for early childhood programs and scholarships;
• Rural providers and community leaders urging funding flexibility and realization of limitations on program choices in rural areas; and
• A senator proposing that the state to establish and fund universal Pre-K (Age 4) programs

The Senate Committees are expected to take up a number of issues involving early childhood education programs in the 2015 session which begins on January 6th.

Measuring Success and Quality in Charter Schools

One of the six original purposes established for Minnesota’s charter schools outlines in statute was to measure learning outcomes and create different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes”. Today, some twenty three years later the reality is that while learning outcomes are being measured according to federal and state requirements, little in the way of creating different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes has taken place. A notable exception is the HOPE Study which measures student aspirations.

The short answer for why there has been little in the way of different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes, is that there has been untold amounts of money and massive lobbying efforts over the years to ensure that public policy recognizes and accepts standardized tests as the primary, if not the ultimate outcomes measurement.

If success on tests was the measure of success in life, then our public policy might make some sense, but test taking is not the ultimate measure of success. In fact, it is probably not even in the top 100 ways people measure success in their lives – yet, that is what public policy has determined to be the measure success of young people, teachers and schools.

Yesterday, I attended a Brunch and Learn at CliftonLarsonAllen where by Bob Wedl, former Minnesota Commissioner of Education gave a short presentation that posed four fundamental questions about measuring success and quality in charter schools. Why do we measure? What do we measure? When do we measure? And, How do we measure, success and quality?

These are the questions that public policy should address about measuring outcomes. Maybe, if we answered these questions honestly we would find that there are different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes.  We might also just find what are real and meaningful measures of success which schools contribute to the lives of young people and society.

Senate E-12 Education Finance & Policy Committees Joint Hearing on Facilities

Last Thursday, November 13th the MN State Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committees held a joint hearing on school facilities in Minnesota. The focus of the hearing was the School Facilities Financing Work Group Report that was presented to the legislature last session.

In terms of charter schools the Report makes one recommendation: Provide funding increases for charter schools comparable to increases provided to school districts.

In testimony before the joint hearing we did three things:

  1. Laid out a short history of charter school facility policy and funding,
  2. Outlined the current status of charter school facilities,
  3. Highlighted a proposal for direct ownership of facilities and a funding mechanism for bonding of charter school facilities.

The Association distributed two handouts to committee members, both of which are available on the MACS website.

http://www.mncharterschools.org/_uls/resources/Minnesota_Charter_School_Facilities_overview.pdf

http://www.mncharterschools.org/_uls/resources/School_Facilities_Survey_Report.pdf

It is expected that the financing of school district and charter school facilities will be significant issues in the 2015 legislative session.