In the next week we will be hearing from Ember Reichgott Junge, a former Minnesota state senator, and author of Minnesota's and the nation's first charter school law passed in 1991. Ember is a Democrat and, as far as I know, is an advocate for charter schools, but has not spoken in favor of the other "tools in the toolkit" for pro-school choice advocates - vouchers, tax credit scholarships and virtual schools. I could be wrong but I guess we'll be finding out about her views in those areas as Ms. Junge tours Georgia at the invitation of the pro-charter amendment group this coming week.
I was curious to know what charter law in Minnesota looked like, how it compared to HB 797 and what the state has learned considering they were the first pass a charter school law. After reviewing Minnesota charter law, I have come to the conclusion that I most likely would be supporting HB 797 if it bore any resemblance Minnesota statute 124D.10. The fact is that it does not. I was also wondering if Ms. Junge has had the time to read HB 797 - I would certainly give her opinion a great deal of weight.
I would like to highlight the major differences in the two laws; if the charter amendment passes on Nov.6th, HB 797, the enabling legislation goes into effect.
2011 Minnesota Statute 124D.10 Charter Schools http://bit.ly/QG1ewt - Purposes
(1) Improve pupil learning and student achievement. (2) increase learning opportunities for pupils; (3) encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods; (4) measure learning outcomes and create different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes; (5) establish new forms of accountability for schools; and (6) create new professional opportunities for teachers; including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
HB 797 http://1.usa.gov/ThnBZE lines 103 - 106
(2) Develop, promote, and disseminate best practices for state charter schools in order to ensure that high-quality schools are developed and encouraged. At a minimum, the best practices shall encourage the development and replication of academically and financially proven state charter school programs.
Minnesota's purpose is aligned with the original intent of charter schools - to promote student achievement and foster innovative teaching methods. Georgia's statement of purpose is clearly to establish a system of replicable state charter schools to compete with traditional public schools.
Authorizers - Minnesota has 5 categories of organizations that can authorize one or more charter schools. The State BOE or an appointed state commission in Minnesota are NOT one of the five.
Formation and Governing Board of a School - Minnesota; the school developer or charter applicant must include one or more licensed teachers. The school's board of directors must include at least one licensed teacher and one parent or legal guardian of a student enrolled at the school. Georgia HB 797 - members of the governing board for the state charter school shall meet the following qualifications: a) must be a United States citizen, b) must be a resident of Georgia; and c) must not be an employee of the state charter school. No teachers or parents are required.
Employment: Minnesota - a charter school must employ or contract with necessary teachers who hold valid licenses to perform the particular service for which they are employed in the school. State aid may be reduced if the school violates this provision. Georgia HB 797 - Seek highly qualified, properly trained teachers and other qualified personnel. No certification is required.
Monitoring, accountability and termination - Minnesota - too extensive to list here. Georgia - If a state charter school falls short of performance measures included in the approved charter, the commission shall report such shortcomings to the Department of Education. AND? If the Charter Schools Act of 1998 is supposed to pick monitoring up from here, the language couldn't be more vague.
Affiliated nonprofit building corporation - an example in Georgia is Red Apple, Charter Schools USA's development arm that purchases property, builds or remodels and then leases the property back to their charter schools. Minnesota - law states six specific conditions the building corporation must meet prior to purchasing property. Georgia HB 797 - this business arrangement is not even mentioned in HB 797 although it already exists at both of Charter Schools USA's charter schools.
Management contract with EMOS's - Minnesota; an authorizer must not enter into a contract to provide management and financial services for a school that it authorizes, unless the school documents that it received at least two competitive bids. Georgia - not included in HB 797.
In addition, Minnesota law underwent something of an upheaval in 2009 http://bit.ly/P85RAW making authorizers directly responsible for the operational and academic performance of their schools. The change in the law was to address several incidences of mismanagement and lax oversight policies - quality vs. quantity is the emphasis in 2012. There is no evidence in HB 797 of any stringent monitoring procedures enforced by the commission in the law. Taxpayers, parents and students will pay the price. Georgia cannot afford choice for choice's sake.
What I and many opponents of the charter amendment understand is that we will be giving up our local voice in education decisions and spending so the "free market" contingent lobbying our legislators can dismantle public education budget cut by budget cut. Do they have a long-term plan? Are they concerned about ALL of Georgia's students or just those that fall into the "pro-school choice" category? These groups include the Georgia Charter Schools Association, Americans For Prosperity, American Federation for Children, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Family Council, ALEC, Faith and Freedom Coalition and StudentsFirst. Please review their objectives and decide if you agree with them.
This legislation, HB 797, in my opinion, is an insult to teachers, students, parents and taxpayers who have trusted certain legislators and our Governor to look after the interests of the 95 percent rather than special interests with deeper pockets.