What is a non-districted public school, also known as a charter school?
Charter schools are independent public schools of choice for parents and students. The “charter” establishing each school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, students served, performance goals, and methods of assessment. Charter schools offer a unique educational program, and students can expect quality education based on results. Charter schools employ licensed teachers, offer services to special needs students, and require students to take state and national tests to assure academic accountability. They do not charge tuition, and there are no admission requirements to enroll students in charter schools.
Charter school history
Minnesota enacted the first charter school law in the United States in June 1991. In May 2009, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a comprehensive “second generation” charter school law that focused on strengthening accountability and innovation. Minnesota’s 2009 law has been rated as the nation’s best charter school law. The first charter schools in the nation opened in Minnesota in 1992, and they continue to be a popular choice for students seeking an alternative to traditional public schools. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, as of late 2019 there are 164 charter schools in operation in Minnesota serving approximately 57,000 K-12 students. In 2015, the Minnesota Legislature recodified the Charter School provisions as its own chapter in Minnesota statutes – Chapter 124E. (See 2015 Minnesota Statute 124E – Minnesota’s Charter School Law)
Resources on Minnesota Issues: Charter Schools is a guide compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library designed to provide an introduction to charter schools for legislators. (See http://www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl/issues/issues?issue=charter)
- Charter schools are public schools.
- Charter schools are tuition free.
- Charter schools may not require entrance exams or requirements.
- Charter schools may not limit the admission of pupils on the basis of intellectual ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, or athletic ability.
- Charter schools must accept all students up to capacity. If there are more students than slots, the school must conduct a lottery.
- Charter schools may have specific program focuses such as language immersion, project‐based learning, environmental education, arts education, expeditionary learning, online learning, etc. River Grove: A Marine Area Community School focuses on community leadership, environment, and the arts.
Operations of charter schools
- Charter schools are formed and operate as Minnesota non‐profit corporations.
- Charter school boards are composed of parents, licensed teachers, and community members.
- Charter school boards are elected by parents and school staff, and boards are subject to Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law.
- Charter schools boards enter into a legally binding charter contract with an authorizer.
- Charter schools have an authorizer college or university, a nonprofit organization, or a traditional school district) that is the authorizing authority and oversight body of the school.
- Marine Area Community School has partnered with The Minnesota Guild.
- Charter school teachers must hold a valid Minnesota teaching license.
- Charter schools have the same financial audits, audit procedures, and audit requirements as traditional public school districts.
- Charter schools are subject to the Human Rights Law, Pupil Fair Dismissal Act, Public School Fee Law, Data Practices Law, General Employment Law, federal, state and local health and safety laws, state testing requirements, etc.
- Charter schools must follow the same federal and state requirements to provide special education services as other public school districts.
- Charter schools receive less per pupil funding than traditional public schools. Charters may not levy property taxes, and receive no funding from local property taxes.
What is the role of the MN Department of Education?
The MN Department of Education (MDE) is the state agency established by the legislature to carry out the education provisions under state law. The department defines its mission in the following way: “Improve educational achievement by establishing clear standards, measuring performance, assisting educators and increasing opportunities for lifelong learning.” In terms of charter schools, the department approves, monitors and evaluates authorizers; manages charter school funding and grant programs; provides guidance to schools on federal and state programs; and ensures compliance with the rules and regulations of those programs. See more information here: https://education.mn.gov/MDE/dse/chart/
How are charter schools funded?
As public schools, charter schools are tuition-free. They are funded according to enrollment levels and receive public funds on a per pupil basis. Charter schools do not have tax levy authority; the Marine Area Community School does not benefit from levies or bonds passed by taxpayers in the Stillwater Area Public Schools district. Charter schools are entitled to federal categorical funding for which their students are eligible, such as Title I and Special Education monies. Federal legislation provides grants to help charters to manage start-up costs; MACS is the recipient of a federal “CSP” grant.