Charter School Law Changes in Three States Cover Wide Range
Collaboration among district and charter schools, transparency of operations, the role of foreign interests, and the distribution of federal funds are among the issues covered in changes to charter school laws in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Minnesota in May and late April 2012.
In South Carolina, the governor on May 14, 2012, signed into law a bill with extensive changes impacting charter schools, according to an Associated Press article carried by Education Week.
Among the provisions, the law allows single-sex charter schools and sponsorship of schools by institutions of higher learning. It also makes charter school students eligible to participate in extracurricular activities at district schools.
The law also creates a facilities loan program that is to be funded with state, federal, and privately donated funds to support construction, purchase, renovation, and maintenance of charter school facilities, with the State Treasurer setting procedures for applications and repayment.
Regarding allocation of federal funds associated with certain categories of students, the law states that the proportional share of the money must be distributed by sponsors to charter schools within 10 business days of receiving it. If that doesn’t happen, the state can fine the sponsor the equivalent of the amount withheld.
In Tennessee, new laws boost requirements for transparency and set restrictions on the role of foreign interests in charter schools in two separate legislative acts of 2012.
The governor announced on May 2, 2012, that the bill restricting foreign interests in charter schools would go into law without his signature, according to an Associated Press article on knoxnews.com.
Under the act, which takes effect July 1, 2012, a chartering authority may not approve an application if a school plans to rely on “non-immigrant foreign worker H1B or J1 visa programs in excess of 3.5 percent of the total number of positions,” if operators of the proposed school have been affiliated with other schools that have been “subjects of investigation by any government agencies for questionable use of non-immigrant foreign worker visa programs,” or if the school is controlled by foreign nationals. Certain provisions of the law do not apply if the chartering authority is a local education agency and the agency itself uses foreign worker visa programs to fill more than 3.5 percent of its staff.
The law also states that charter school applications and renewals shall disclose all sources of private funds and all funds from foreign sources.
A separate act focused on charter school transparency. Signed by the governor April 23, 2012, the law requires that charter schools comply with open meetings law and meet the same requirements as local education agencies for providing access to school records, including posting certain notices and information on its school website. The law takes effect July 1, 2012.
In Minnesota, Chapter 239, signed into law by the governor April 27, 2012, extends the initial authorization period allowed for charter schools, boosts transparency of charter school board operations, specifically addresses collaboration between charter schools and districts, and provides greater flexibility for charter school board member training.
The initial charter school authorization period goes from three years to five years, and charter schools are directed to publish and maintain on the school's website specific information, including minutes from board of directors' meetings and meetings of members and committees having board-delegated authority.
Regarding collaboration, a charter school and district may voluntarily enter into a two-year, renewable agreement for collaboration involving facilities, transportation, training, student achievement, assessments, and other areas, even if the charter school is not authorized by the district. Among other provisions, the district, for purposes of student assessment and reporting to the state, “may include the academic performance of the students of a collaborative charter school site operating within the geographic boundaries of the school district.”
The law also removes a requirement that charter school board member training programs be approved by the Department of Education, but directs that the school include in its annual report the training attended by board members during the previous year.