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.



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.



OTHER INCOME – All AUTHORIZERS                 $  101,125.73

TOTAL INCOME – All AUTHORIZERS              $3,217.071.79


NET INCOME – ALL AUTHORIZERS                    $     76,200.01





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. 

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: