Minnesota Transitions Charter School announced Thursday that it will close its independent study program that serves 166 students effective Friday after losing a state aid battle.
The school's board made the decision Wednesday night, Minnesota Transitions School Director Patty Brostrom said. She said the school hopes to absorb in its other programs most of the students in the affected alternative learning program. The program's closing will come at the end of the third quarter, the day before spring break begins.
Minnesota Transitions also operates K-12 classroom and online programs that serve almost 3,000 students. Those programs are not affected.
The students involved are seniors, of whom a majority are trying to make up credits toward graduation, Brostrom said. They typically do most of their classwork outside of the school, bringing assignments for teachers to review and grade, and taking unit tests.
Most of the seven full-time teachers for the program will lose their jobs, Brostrom said, but she hopes one or two could be absorbed by other Transitions programs.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals earlier this month ruled in favor of the state Department of Education that charter schools aren't eligible to operate alternative learning programs for struggling students, in an appeal brought by Minnesota Transitions.
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.
The Minnesota Association of Charter Schools is expected to consider whether to seek legislative authorization in the 2015 session for the department to fund charter operation of such schools.
Keep an eye on Al Fan. That's what the Walton Family Foundation, one of the biggest funders of what's called education reform, said Thursday about the executive director of Charter School Partners.
The Waltonians cited Fan as one of four ed reformers to watch and gave him $10,000 that he plans to plow back into the Minneapolis-based group.
Fan attracted attention for CSP's efforts to get charter schools to raise their game in Minnesota. There's evidence that CSP is succeeding. In 2009, charters were several weeks behind district schools on student performance for like sets of students, according to a Stanford University analysis. But in its latest measurements, charters had leaped ahead in reading by two weeks and were behind in math by a statistically insignificant amount.
CSP has lobbied for a package of charter changes at the state Capitol, including one that's yet to be adopted that would force the shutdown of subpar charters.But it helped reduce the state aid holdback to benefit charters, and supported the 2011 law allowing alternative licensing programs for teachers.
On the charter improvement front, the group helps link consultants to charters that want to improve their leadership. It also launched a two-year fellowship program for fledgling charter leaders. The first year allows a handful of charter educators to plan their schools, and they put those plans in place during the second year, leading to the opening of three new charter schools this fall.
Fan worked at General Mills in sales and marketing for 16 years before joining a venture capital-like nonprofit that made grants to startup nonprofits. That led him to the boards of two local charters, and drove him to join CSP to try to replicate charter success.
“It’s humbling because I am not a traditional educator," Fan said. "I think the work we’re doing is beginning to be recognized nationally.”
The Walton foundation built on the Walmart business bills itself as the nation's largest funder of "parental choice and competition within education," and has been a major funder of CSP. The foundation is reviled by some unionized teachers for funding what they see as a concerted attempt to undermine district--based public education.