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Study: Charter schools a mixed bag

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Charter school students and others visited the state Capitol to promote charter schools. A new reporter issued today by the Legislative Auditor says the schools have had mixed results when it comes to educational outcomes.
MPR Photo/Laura MCallum

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles told a Minnesota Senate committee that charter schools have a mized record of success.

"We found a mixed picture... improvement is needed" in Minnesota's charter schools, Nobles said..

The bottom line according to the report is that about half of charter schools make "adequate yearly progress," a key measure of performance. That compares to about two-thirds of regular schools.

But the report also says that despite financial obstacles and uncertain oversight, charter school programs teach kids about as well as regular schools when you control for differences in race and income.

In the central cities, though, charter schools did better than the Minneapolis and St. Paul district schools.

Still, its clear that after nearly two decades, the charter school movement still has some "growing up" to do, Nobles told the committee.

The study's authors say Minnesota needs to make some key changes to regulations for charter school education to make them more accountable to taxpayers, parents and students. Those changes include:

* The Legislature should clarify the roles of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and sponsors with respect to charter school oversight by requiring the MDE to approve sponsors and increasing sponsors' authority.

* The Department of Education should implement standards for charter school sponsors and provide additional training to improve sponsor expertise.

* The Legislature should require all new charter school board members to attend financial management training within one year of being elected.

* The Legislature should expand the charter school board conflict of interest laws to parallel federal requirements.

* The Legislature should amend the charter school law to remove the requirement that teachers comprise a majority of charter school board members.

Lawmakers are getting a first look at the report at a Legislative Audit Commission hearing this afternoon at the Capitol.