Daria Adams said she knew her daughter, Kiana, was in the right place as the smiling teen in the dramatic black headscarf picked up her class schedule at the Saint Paul Conservatory charter school.
"This is just a place that is meant for a girl like her. She likes all the arts, she sings, she does theater, she likes to direct films," Adams said. During Kiana's one semester at a suburban public high school, Adams said, her 17-year-old daughter "just wilted."
So when she was told the school for the performing arts was among the dozens of
The nation's oldest charter school movement is undergoing one of its biggest shake-ups in years, with some of the state's 152 charter schools likely to close after this school year. It's due to a 2009 state
Most charter school leaders say it's a welcome reaction to problems. Several charter schools have been in the news for dishonest or incompetent administrators, and a 2008 audit noted shortcomings in the standards for authorizers.
Authorizers are the entities that open and close the schools and oversee their administrators, but don't operate the schools directly. Their roles weren't clearly defined before the 2009 law.
It requires authorizers to apply to the Department of Education under the new criteria by June 30, 2011, and demonstrate they have the staff and financial backing to perform the additional oversight.
Many of the 47 current authorizers have said they don't, and won't apply for renewal.
That includes the school districts in St. Paul, Hopkins, Le Sueur-Henderson and Brooklyn Center and the Education Department itself.
Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, estimated that more than half the state's charter schools, with their 35,000 students, are dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing if they'll have an authorizer next summer.
"There's a lot of schools out there wondering what they should be doing. Should they be looking for a new authorizer? Wait to see what happens next?" Piccolo said. "There's a lot of people sitting around on pins and needles waiting to see what's going to happen in the next round."
Thirteen authorizers did apply to the Department of Education in the first round of reviews earlier this year, but only six made the cut.
Several other current authorizers, including the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, plan to apply for the first time in later rounds. The Ordway is the authorizer of the Saint Paul Conservatory.
Shelly Quiala, the Ordway's director of arts education and engagement, said it was an easy decision to continue overseeing the school despite the added demands because it trains the next generation of performers.
Terry Tofte, executive director of the conservatory, said he expected the Ordway would be approved by next summer. He also anticipated that it would change how his school teaches. "It will heighten our day-to-day awareness of student achievement," he said. "Math in particular, which is an area in which we've struggled."
The deadline for submitting the next round of authorizer applications is Sept. 28 and the department is to make its decisions by Dec. 27. A third round will be held next spring. Piccolo said many charter schools are hoping the Legislature will extend the deadline.
The leaders of some charter schools are already shopping for a new authorizer. "We've received a lot of inquiries, over 20," said Elizabeth Topoluk, director of Wayzata-based Friends of Education, one of the six authorizers already approved.
But after being told about the strict requirements her group puts on charter schools, none of them decided to proceed, she said.
She said Friends of Education already keeps close tabs on its 17 charter schools and doesn't think the new criteria will change how it operates very much.
Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, the bill's sponsor, said the overhaul was long overdue. The first charter school in the nation opened in St. Paul in 1992. The movement has spread, but she said the state's regulations didn't keep up.
"Other states were building on, and learning from, lessons learned in Minnesota while we sort of sat here," she said. "People started to look at Minnesota as the Wild West of charter schools."
Scandals fed the perception. In 2008, the Oh Day Aki/Heart of the Earth school closed after the executive director was accused of embezzling about $1 million. He was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison.
That same year, the state launched an investigation into the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy after receiving complaints the Inver Grove Heights charter school had blurred the line between church and state. The school was cleared on those allegations, but in August an appeals court upheld a $140,000 fine against the school for employing unlicensed teachers.
Saltzman said her law could cull the state's weakest charter schools because they either won't be able to find an authorizer or wouldn't meet an approved authorizer's performance goals.
"If you love charter schools, you should really like this bill," she said. "If you're concerned about charter schools you should like the bill because it's going to raise the bar for accountability."