In the face of calls to limit charter school growth in the city, some St. Paul leaders are saying not so fast. Rather than pushing for a moratorium, some school administration officials want to collaborate with charters schools to best serve students, families and communities in the capital city.
Building a stronger partnership is certainly a better use of school district time and energy. District officials wisely favor expanding efforts to work with charters and bring students back to traditional schools at different points during their school years.
Families and students want and deserve to have educational options. That’s why Minnesota has been on the forefront of offering charter, alternative and open enrollment options.
However, the St. Paul Federation of Educators teachers union and a community group have recently been asking school board and City Council candidates whether they would support a moratorium on new charter schools pending a study of their impact on the community. The idea earned support, particularly among council and school board members who are running for re-election this year.
They argue that the district is losing too much revenue to existing charters — both in per pupil allocations from the state and in city tax revenue when charter-owned buildings go off the tax rolls.
In 2017-18, the city saw more than 11,000 of its school-age children attend 35 St. Paul-based charters rather than district schools, a Star Tribune analysis of state enrollment data shows. The district now is anticipating a $4.6 million budget deficit in the coming school year, including an enrollment loss of several hundred students this fall.
However, Jackie Turner, the district’s chief operations officer, recently told school board members that the district should work with charters and welcome their students. She said that while some families may choose charters for younger elementary kids, the district can and is getting them to return in transition grades entering middle or high school.
Turner also noted that several of the district’s schools have waiting lists and that some of those families may opt into charters because they can’t take advantage of preferred traditional programs. That argues for the district to expand its more popular programs.
As for partnerships, the district has worked with two K-8 language immersion programs — Twin Cities German Immersion School in St. Paul and Yinghua Academy in Minneapolis — to send their graduates to St. Paul high schools to continue their educations.
A moratorium on charters is unnecessary, in part because state legislators have over time imposed more rigorous criteria for creating the schools. As a result, Minnesota has about 164 charter programs, while some other states have several hundred. Of Minnesota’s 860,000-plus public school kids, about 56,000 attend charters.
Cooperating with effective charter programs is true to the original intent of the charter legislation. The alternative schools were started more than 25 years ago to allow for innovative instructional approaches. Some have been highly successful, while others have faced their own financial and leadership problems.
Traditional and charter schools are all under the public-school umbrella, and one of the goals of the charter school movement was to have both types of schools learn from each other to boost student achievement.
A moratorium would send a strong, unnecessary signal that St. Paul is closing the door on innovation and collaboration.