Accountability issues vex some charter schools
- Article by: Associated Press
- May 28, 2014 - 8:59 PM
Problems at a St. Paul charter school are adding to complaints from critics, who say it’s too difficult to figure out accountability in Minnesota’s 150 such schools.
Minnesota Public Radio highlighted an independent report Wednesday that pointed to possible gaps in oversight at the Community School of Excellence.
An investigation found that the superintendent of the charter school had misused federally subsidized lunch funds and discouraged employees from reporting suspected cases of child abuse. When the charter’s overseer decided something had to be done, there was a lag in action.
Officials at Concordia University, which serves as the school’s authorizer, asked the board to dismiss embattled superintendent Mo Chang. But the school board would not remove Chang, saying that problems identified in the investigation had been fixed.
Instead, Chang and the school will part ways upon expiration of a contract in 2016, said Lonn Maly, chair of the Charter School Advisory Council at Concordia.
Some, including proponents of charter schools, say it’s too difficult to close down underperforming charters.
Dozens of charters have closed in Minnesota over the past two decades, most after encountering financial problems, said Myron Orfield, a charter critic and researcher at the University of Minnesota.
Five years ago, state lawmakers revised charter school laws, changing so-called charter sponsors to authorizers. The authorizers were supposed to be more accountable for the financial and academic affairs of their schools. But it tends to fall to the schools’ boards, not authorizers, to make changes when problems arise.
The state will install a new system for regularly evaluating charter school authorizers next school year.
Yet, one former state senator, Kathy Saltzman, wants the state to demand more decisive action. Now the state director for the education group Students First, Saltzman is pushing a proposal to require Minnesota to take action if it has concerns about a charter school.
“I think in doing that we will serve children better, students better, the public better,” she said.
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