Thursday, June 04, 2009

Stricter charter oversight in MN

As a charter school board member in Minnesota, I have to say, it's about time.  

According to a story in today's StarTrib,
Legislative changes affecting the special breed of public schools will increase oversight, close loopholes and clean up unclear language that had made it easier for some schools to get away with sloppy management or outright theft. Charter school sponsors will have stricter guidelines -- which could drive some away -- and the state will have more power to withhold taxpayer money or to shut down a school that breaks the law.
The minutes of our board meetings are public record, so I don't feel guilty about saying that I think we could use a lot more oversight, or at least training, in our financial decision-making. We don't have anything illegal going on like the charter school director who walked away with $1.4 million, but it just sort of feels like the blind leading the blind. Apparently our authorizer has barely come around to check on us except to make token yearly visits - that is until we got audited this year and the state had to get involved.

In New York this never would have happened, because the system is much more centralized.  There are only two charter authorizers in the state of New York, and their standards are very rigorous.  I've heard terrible stories about some of the many Minnesota charter authorizers.  

So apparently the state is putting pressure on authorizers: 
Some authorizers have gone "above and beyond the law" watching over the finances and operation of their charter schools, but others rarely even visit schools, said Chas Anderson, state Education Department deputy commissioner. "Without a strong authorizer, it's really hit or miss whether a charter school is going to be successful."
Now, all of a sudden, our authorizer has started to pay attention.

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