September 18, 2019

2019 Charter Legislative Update

By Michelle Koffa

During the 2019 legislative session, several bills passed with a direct impact on charter schools, and many more were considered but not adopted. There was significant debate about special education funding, where ultimately charters will be held harmless despite some concerning proposals. This issue is likely to come up again in 2020, and we are also expecting debate about the idea of a charter school moratorium. EdAllies will continue to advocate for high-quality charter schools, and we look forward to partnering to remove barriers that stand in the way of success. 

NEW LEGISLATION PASSED
Mandatory Reporting: Changes to 122A.20, subdivision 2

Under current law, a school board is required to report to the appropriate licensing agency any time a teacher or administrator is discharged or resigns for reasons that are grounds for immediate discharge, or when they are being investigated for these reasons or maltreatment of a minor.

This requirement now extends to charter schools and charter school authorizers. The report must be made within 10 days of the action. The reporting entity must cooperate with the investigation by the licensing board. Upon written request of the licensing board, the charter school or authorizer must provide personnel information about the teacher or administrator, including any termination, disciplinary, or settlement agreement.

More detail about these provisions can be found under: section 122A.4,1 subd. 6, clauses (1), (2), and (3), and subd. 7; section 122A.40, subd. 13 (a) (1) – (5); and 626.556.

Special Education Tuition Billback (Special Education Aid Adjustment)

Under current law, when students open enroll or attend a charter, 90 percent of the serving school’s unreimbursed special education expenditures are billed back to the student’s resident district. (There is an exception for charter schools serving at least 90 percent students with special needs. In this case, 100 percent of the unreimbursed special education expenditures are billed back to the resident district—a policy that will stay in place.)

In FY 2020, the 90/10 tuition aid adjustment policy will change, shifting to 85/15, and then again to 80/20 in FY2021. This will reduce the fiscal impact of unreimbursed special education costs on resident districts. The legislature worked to ensure that charter schools were held harmless under the reduced bill back, making an adjustment to balance the change in reimbursement from resident districts. In other words, charter schools will still only be responsible for 10 percent of unreimbursed special education expenditures.

The legislature’s bottom line this year was reducing the burden of unreimbursed special education costs, also known as the cross-subsidy. To do this, in addition to changing bill back formulas, the legislature also increased overall special education aid by $90.691 million for FY20/21. Because districts currently bear most of the burden of unreimbursed costs (due to the bill-back process), the fiscal benefit of the aid increase will be negligible for charters, with a net increase of only $107,000. 

It’s important to note that while the state technically earmarked more money for charters in order to hold them harmless, it is actually districts who will see the benefit of this change on their books—in other words, a cost now borne by districts will instead be borne by the state. 

Safe Schools Supplemental Aid

If the FY2019 closing balance exceeds $33 million, the excess amount up to $30 million will be made available as a one-time safe schools supplemental aid. The aid will be provided to each school district, including charter schools, per pupil using the FY2018 average daily membership for each district or charter. Funds may be used for any purpose authorized under the Safe Schools Levy, section 126C.44, and for building lease expenses not funded by lease aid that are attributable to facility security enhancements made by the landlord after March 1, 2019.

This is one-time funding, and is not subject to the 90/10 aid entitlement shift. The entire prorated amount for each district and charter school will be paid on a schedule determined by the commissioner. 

Lead Water Testing

Section 121A.335 governing lead water testing and reporting requirements will now include charter schools. Under current law, school districts must test each school building within five years of July 1, 2018, and once every five years thereafter. 

Guidance around lead levels and appropriate actions is set by the commissioners of education and health. Charter schools must follow this guidance. A charter school that has tested its building or buildings for the presence of lead shall make the results of the testing available to the public for review and must notify parents of the availability of that information. 

A school that finds lead at a specific location providing cooking or drinking water within a facility must formulate, make publicly available, and implement a plan that is consistent with established guidelines and recommendations to ensure that student exposure to lead is minimized. This includes immediately shutting off a water source for cooking or drinking, or making it unavailable, until the hazard has been minimized, when the presence of lead meets a level set by the guidance. Within 30 days of receiving the test results, the school must either remediate the presence of lead to below the level set in guidance, verified by retest, or directly notify parents of the test result. 

Voluntary Prekindergarten, Finance Accounting 

A participating school district or charter school must record expenditures attributable to voluntary prekindergarten pupils into the Uniform Systems of Records and of Accounting as established by the commissioner of education. For many participants, this is already common practice, but the statute will now be clear for those participants who have not been as precise in their data entry into the system.

Other Relevant Provisions
  • 2% per-year formula funding increase for FY2020 and FY2021.
  • Voluntary Prekindergarten extended for another two years. Charter schools currently serving VPK pupils will continue to be funded, but there is no new funding for expansion.
  • Dyslexia screening required for students not reading at grade level from grades K-2. Dyslexia screening required for all students grades three and higher with a demonstrated reading difficulty, unless another reason for the reading difficulty has been identified.
  • Schools are encouraged to offer a course in government and citizenship to students in grades 11 or 12 as part of the current credit requirements for social studies.
  • Students authorized to possess and use sunscreen without a prescription or written permission.
  • Snow Day Forgiveness provides funding for days or instructional hours that would otherwise have been made up to meet minimum state requirements.
  • Special Education Policy Changes: 
    • Revises the Prior Written Notice requirements to allow parents to identify specific areas of a proposal to which they object, and request a meeting with the IEP team.
    • IEP reporting requirements modified to allow reporting of student performance on state or district assessments related to the student’s special education needs. (Current law interpreted to require this reporting.)
    • Revises the special education voluntary dispute resolution options to include a meeting with appropriate members of the IEP team rather than a full conciliation conference.
PROPOSED CHANGES NOT ENACTED

The following items were passed by at least one legislative chamber, but not enacted into law. They are included here as they are likely to be considered again in the 2020 Legislative Session.

Definition of Municipality

The Walz Administration proposed including charter schools in the definition of a municipality. School districts are currently included. This change in definition would extend municipal contracting law to charter schools, ensuring an open and auditable contract process for goods purchased.

Hopkins School District and Charter School Merger 

Rep. Laurie Pryor proposed legislation to authorize the Hopkins school district to merge with a charter school within its district boundaries. The goal was to absorb the charter into the Hopkins district, thus terminating the charter school. The merged charter school would have to agree to the merger. While the merger would need to be mutually agreed, it does create a precedent for districts to absorb charter schools rather than using existing statutory authority to create joint programming.

Affiliated Nonprofit Building Corporation Limited

The Minnesota Department of Education interprets current statute to limit affiliated nonprofit building corporations to serving only one charter school. The proposed change would have written this into law. 

House Special Education Tuition Billback Proposal

The House proposed and passed a special education aid adjustment proposal that would have had a negative impact on charter schools. Resident school districts would have paid for 70 percent of the unreimbursed costs billed back from the charter, with the State picking up an additional 10 percent. This would have meant an increase in charters’ uncovered cost from 10 percent to 20 percent. 

Safe Schools Revenue 

Similar to a proposal considered but not enacted in 2018, there has been bipartisan support to include charter schools in the Safe Schools Levy. As charters do not have levy authority, the revenue for charters would be provided in state aid. The proposal passed by the House, but not enacted, would have provided charter schools with $9 per pupil for FY2018 and then $54 per pupil for FY2021 and later.

Radon Testing

Under current law, school districts are encouraged to test their facilities, especially first floor or subsurface rooms serving children, for radon gas. The proposal would require school districts and charter schools to test their buildings for presence of radon once every five years and to report the results. 

Student Journalism

Would have required school districts and charter schools to adopt a policy on student journalism that limits school control or censorship of student media. This state law would give students content control of their journalistic product.

Sexual Health Education

The proposal would have required school districts and charter schools to offer a program in sexual health education that is age-appropriate. Districts and charter schools may either adopt a state model program or develop a program consistent with the requirements of state law.

PROPOSALS TO WATCH FOR IN 2020 
Charter School Moratorium

At the 2019 Education Minnesota Representative Convention, delegates passed an amendment supporting a moratorium on charter schools in Minnesota. This echoes calls by some candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination. In recent months, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers has also begun asking candidates for the city council to support a municipal moratorium on new charter schools. It is not likely that a charter school moratorium would pass the state Senate, but such proposals should be taken seriously and will garner significant public debate if they come before the legislature.