Authorizing excellence

The land of 10,000 lakes is not keen on letting 1,000 flowers bloom. Nearly a year ago, the Minnesota legislature decided to ramp up expectations for charter school authorizers. It put in place a more rigorous process to qualify as an authorizer and required more direct contact between authorizer and school. The changes responded to a state audit that revealed major problems, the most egregious of which was the fact that a few authorizers had little to no interaction with their schools after initially sponsoring them. But now that the new rules are going into effect, some authorizers want out. Half of the fourteen districts that currently serve as authorizers, as well as the state department of education itself, are thinking of jumping ship, i.e. getting out of sponsorship altogether. (Minnesota presently has fifty-two separate authorizing bodies.) They claim they don’t have the resources or manpower to handle authorization under the new rules. Some charter supporters are worried, fretting over a possible shortage of authorizers, and concerned that some schools mind not find new sponsors in time to stay open. We’re more sanguine. As we know from direct experience in Ohio, authorizing schools is hard work; only organizations committed to doing it right should be in the game—and it’s altogether possible for a state to have too many sponsors.

Minnesota districts cutting ties to charter schools,” by Gregory A. Patterson, Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 28, 2010

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