REIMAGINING PUBLIC EDUCATION

Some thirty years ago in an era when public education was seen as being somewhat stuck and static the concept of chartered public schools was proposed as a way to reimagine schooling. Chartered public schools would be outcomes based and focused on innovation in programming, teaching methodologies, assessment techniques, evaluation processes, and redefining the professional development, the role and power of educators in managing the school.

Today, we are in another era where there is growing recognition that public education must address the historical barriers to an equitable and quality education for many students, while also dealing with the inequities brought upon by a pandemic. If the pandemic has demonstrated anything is that public schools and educators have the capacity to meet new challenges. The challenge ahead is a daunting one. Public education is being called upon to reimagine how it must be different to be more equitable in a post-pandemic world.

What that reimagined public education ecosystem might look like is yet to be defined. What we do know is that it will require a renewed commitment to creating and sustaining a culture of innovation and a commitment to re-empower educators to take the lead in education.

For charter schools the upcoming 30th anniversary of Minnesota’s first in the nation chartered public school law provides an opportunity to reflect on how the movement has or has not reimagined schooling. It provides a time to renew the commitment to innovation and empowering educators to lead and act to ensure that each-and-every individual student has an equitable opportunity to a quality education to achieve their potential.

IT IS TIME BETTER MARKET RESEARCH

Over the last decade a disturbing trend has occurred relative to new chartered public schools in Minnesota.

The trend is the growing number of new chartered schools being approved which do not open, or open with enrollments significantly below projections, or schools that close within a short time after opening.

While there are multiple factors for this trend, some more obvious than others, one thing we do know is that school developers need to provide better Market Information about the need and demand for a particular school in the application process.

It is for this reason the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools is proposing legislation to 1] Define what a Market Need and Demand Study entails, and 2] require a Market Need and Demand Study as a component of the application for a new charter school.

PROPOSED DEFINITION

“Market Need and Demand Study” means a study that includes the following for the proposed locations or the school or additional site: a] current and projected demographic information; b] student enrollment patterns; c] information on existing schools and types of educational programs currently available; d] characteristics of proposed students and families; e] availability of properly zoned and classified facilities; and f] quantification of existing demand for the school or site.

The goal of this legislative proposal is three-fold:

1] Require school developers to better know the market for their proposed school and better make their case to an authorizer that the school will be successful and sustainable,

2] Provide authorizers with more consistent information about the potential success and sustainability of the school as they make their decision to authorizer or not authorizer a school,

3] Reduce the number of schools that are approved but never open or are not successful.

It is time for school developers to do a better job of making their case.

It is time for authorizers to be provided more consistent information about the market need and demand for a particular school.

It is time to reduce the number of schools that do not open or fail.

IT IS TIME FOR A MARKET NEED AND DEMAND STUDY FOR EACH PROPOSED SCHOOL

A NEW DECADE – THE TIME FOR A NEW GENERATION OF THE LAW

The beginning of a new decade reminds us that in a short 18 months, Minnesota’s first-in-the nation chartered public school law will be 30 years old.  As we approach the 30th anniversary of the law it is clear that it is time for the next generation of the charter law based on the lived experience of chartering.

In late 2018, the Association’s membership ratified AN AGENDA to FULFILL THE PROMISE which outlined several reforms to the charter school law, as well as school funding of charters and facilities.

As we approach the 2020 legislative session it is our intent to put forth a policy bill based on that Agenda – The Charter School Transparency and Accountability Act of 2020.

While much of the work to advance the legislation will be undertaken by our lobbyist and staff, we need you to be engaged in telling your school’s story and the overall charter school story to your legislators.

We need you to be active participants in the Annual Charter School Day @ the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday, March 4th.

It is time for charter schools to do a more focused effort to tell the story of how they are serving students, and It Is Time for the next generation charter school law.

IT IS TIME

For Higher Expectations for Charter School Boards

For most of the history of chartered public schools in Minnesota (and across the country) one of the biggest challenges has been the governance of schools.

Originally in Minnesota, the board of every chartered school was composed of a majority of teachers who taught in the school, thus ensuring that teachers really were in charge of both the academic program and the operation of the institution.  A decade ago in response to a number of factors, the charter school law was changed to allow for different governance models – a teacher majority board, a parent majority board, a community majority board, or a non-majority board – but all boards must have teachers, parents and community members on the board.

At the same time that these different board governance models were enacted, the Legislature also enacted a requirement that members of chartered school boards take training on the board’s role and responsibilities, employment practices, and financial management within 12 months of being seated on the board. It also mandated annual training but left what that training should be for boards to decide depending on the board’s needs.

What is clear a decade later is that training has contributed to improved overall governance, but governance of many schools is still a significant challenge. There are a number of reasons for this challenge including:

  • As a non-profit organization, the task of recruiting volunteers to serve on boards is difficult work.
  • Often, expectations for volunteers are not exceedingly high – there are those who believe and express that you cannot really expect too much from volunteers.
  • Many of the volunteers who serve on chartered school boards have little or no experience on governance boards, or other experiences that translate to service on a board.
  • Many chartered school boards do not have job descriptions, written expectations, or an on-boarding process for new members, or plans for the annual training of board members.

SO, IT IS TIME – to raise the expectations for charter school boards. It is time for action.

  1. Every chartered school board should have a written job description and expectations for board members, and utilize those in recruiting new members and evaluating the performance of the board.
  2. Every chartered school board should have a formal on-boarding process to provide new members with the background of the institution’s history, challenges, opportunities and the process and procedures of how the board itself works.
  3. Every chartered school board should have an annual plan for the ongoing education and training of individual board members and the overall board.
  4. Every chartered school board should have a board development committee whose job is to facilitate the identification and recruitment of potential board members, oversee the on-boarding and annual education/training processes, and annual retreat of the board.

It is time – for higher expectations for chartered school boards.

EP

THE COST OF AUTHORIZING

Annually by September 30th all Minnesota Charter School Authorizers are required by law to submit to the Commissioner of Education a statement of income and expenditures related to chartering activities during the previous school year ending June 30th. The authorizer must also transmit a copy of the statement to all schools it charters.

QUICK FACTS – FY19 AUTHORIZER INCOME & EXPENDITURES

SCHOOL FEE INCOME – All AUTHORIZERS     $3,115.946.06

OTHER INCOME – All AUTHORIZERS                 $  101,125.73

TOTAL INCOME – All AUTHORIZERS              $3,217.071.79

TOTAL EXPENDITURES – ALL AUTHORIZERS   $3,140,871.78

NET INCOME – ALL AUTHORIZERS                    $     76,200.01

JUNE 30, 2019 – REPORTED FUND BALANCE – All AUTHORIZERS $611,943.54

AVERAGE COST PER SCHOOL– $19,269.00

AVERAGE COST PER PUPIL – $52.52     

EXAMINING LEASE COSTS

As you know, chartered public schools are prohibited by state law from directly owning buildings using public money, so charter schools are always only tenants – never owners – of the spaces they occupy.

Over the last decade, charter school facilities has been a major focus of the Association and we have worked to enact charter school facility legislation – including direct ownership, state bonding, amending the lease aid law to cover maintenance costs, and leverage incentive for schools in negotiating leases with landlords.

During the same period, we have been keeping track of Lease Aid and the costs of charter school leases. Today, Lease Aid is close to $80 million dollars a year, while lease costs are $100 million a year.  Given that the Lease Aid Law requires that charters pay 10% of the lease cost from general funds, or about 10 million, it also means that charters are paying an additional $10 million out of general funds.

Earlier this week we sent our member schools a LEASE COST WORKSHEET so that schools could look at lease costs from five different perspectives:

  1. Cost Per Square Foot
  2. % of Excess Cost of Lease from General Fund
  3. Amount of Excess Dollars from General Fund
  4. Cost Per Pupil
  5. Square Foot Cost Per Pupil

The LEASE COST WORKSHEET is designed to be a educational tool for school administrators, Boards of Directors, and its Finance Committee given that lease costs for many schools are the second biggest expenditure after personnel costs.

EVERYTHING HAS A SOURCE

Everything has a source. 

The source of the Mississippi River is the crystal clear waters of Lake Itasca as the water flows over a row of stones.

The Source of Chartered Public Schools is found in the innovation goals articulated in Minnesota’s the charter school law.

Whether it be a river or ideals codified in law, it is the source of things that provide inspiration, opportunities, and challenges. The source of things provide a beginning place for what can become over time and space. We know what the waters of the Mississippi River becomes over space and time. What chartered public schools become over time is still a work in progress.

Today, we encourage everyone in our chartered public schools to look back at the goals in Minnesota’s charter school law and remember that INNOVATION is the source for the existence of chartered public schools.

2020 Innovation Awards Applications now available at:

https://www.mncharterschools.org/awards/