A group committed to reining in charter school growth in St. Paul is sharpening its message and strategy.
Members appeared before the school board recently to pursue support for a moratorium on new charter schools and the expansion of existing ones.
Such moves are challenging in a state that prides itself on school choice. But the group, Parents for St. Paul Schools, now can count Board Chairwoman Zuki Ellis among its allies.
Earlier this year, when the district’s teachers union first floated the idea, Ellis was not ready to commit. But she jumped on board recently when Parents for St. Paul Schools quizzed board candidates before last week’s elections.
Ellis was re-elected Tuesday, as was board vice chairman Steve Marchese. He said this spring that he supports the idea. Chauntyll Allen, the Black Lives Matter activist who won a seat Tuesday, also answered in the affirmative.
“I agree that we should take a step back and assess the charter schools that have opened, ideally before adding new ones,” Allen wrote in an exchange between candidates and Parents for St. Paul Schools that was posted on the group’s Facebook page.
The public, she said, needs to know how much charter schools cost the district.
The fourth member elected last week, parent-activist Jessica Kopp, said she needed to know who would authorize and enforce a moratorium and how long it would last.
Parents for St. Paul Schools launched this spring while new charter schools were preparing to open in the fall and while the school district grappled with yet another potential budget deficit due in part to declining enrollment.
The group’s members include Clayton Howatt, a former Galtier Community School PTO president, and Lesley Lavery, an associate professor of political science at Macalester College whose book, “A Collective Pursuit: Teachers’ Unions and Education Reform,” will be published next year.
During the Oct. 22 board meeting, Lavery proposed that members back state legislation that could include requiring local school boards to approve any new charter schools within a district’s boundaries or limiting charter school enrollment to no more than 25% of students in a district’s boundaries.
In 2017-18, St. Paul saw more than 11,000 of its school-age children attend charter schools rather than district schools, a Star Tribune analysis of state enrollment data shows.
A moratorium buy-in is no sure thing, however, for the state’s second-largest district.
This spring, Jackie Turner, the district’s chief operations officer, spoke instead of working with charter schools as partners, particularly at transition grades. The district has drawn 150 students from two language-immersion charter schools that now serve grades K-8, she said then.