The Minnesota Court of Appeals Monday agreed with the state Department of Education that charter schools aren't eligible to operate alternative learning programs for struggling students.

The court ruled in a review sought by Minneapolis-based Minnesota Transitions Charter School. 

According to the decision, the department approved Minnesota Transitions in 2002 as an alternative learning program in 2002, and funded that for the next 11 years.  But in 2011, the department began reviewing the alternative program's status, and it told the school in mid-2013 that it couldn't operate the alternative program.

Alternative programs for Minnesota students experiencing difficulty in traditional schools began in 1988. More than 162,000 students are in alternative programs or schools, according to the department, representing 17 percent of public school students.

Minnesota Transitions argued that the department misinterpreted the law, and that the decision was arbitrary and capricious. But the court found otherwise, ruling that the department correctly read the law to distinguish between the powers of districts and those of charters, except where the legislature has explicitly provided otherwise.  "We have over 200 students enrolled in this program and I am floored at the decision," said Patty Brostrom, the school's director. 

But Eugene Piccolo, executive director, of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, said the organization likely will consider whether to seek legislative authorization in the 2015 session for the department to fund charter operation of such schools. He said other charter schools likely would be interested in operating alternative programs because of the nature of their student bodies.