ST. PAUL (AP) -- A bill for a charter-school board survived a House committee. One for added fiscal accountability did not.
In a party-line vote, Republican members of the House Education Policy Committee dismissed arguments Thursday night by Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, that the public needs safeguards to protect taxpayer funds flowing to schools.
Entenza aimed to stiffen auditing and other requirements after conducting a study that he said revealed conflicts of interest among charter-school board members and managers, excessive pay to management firms and negligent financial supervision by some schools.
The Senate, meanwhile, kept alive its version of the bill for future consideration. The prospects there are uncertain, however, because it has yet to be debated by a Senate panel.
In the House, Republicans cried "overkill." Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said Entenza's proposal would be a "big wet blanket" on the 63-school movement. Rep. Alice Seagren, R-Bloomington, a longtime charter school advocate, said many of Entenza's concerns already are being addressed.
But Entenza said issues involving conflicts of interest are going unresolved. His bill also would make it possible for the state to reclaim funds from schools that go out of business and leave teachers and building owners unpaid.
Former Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, a DFLer, said that Entenza's allegations of mismanagement are exaggerated and that he is "causing undeserved harm throughout the charter-school sector."
Her solution called for a new State Board of Charter Schools that would guide new schools. It was approved by the House panel.
Charter schools are public schools, often run by parents and teachers, that operate outside traditional school-district controls. Its advocates have had to defend the schools against a backdrop of high-profile closings and allegations of shoddy fiscal management.
The Success and Right Step academies in St. Paul closed last year because of fiscal and educational mismanagement, prompting Entenza, a former prosecutor, and an aide to pore over more than 50 charter-school audits during the past year.
Soon after he called for criminal investigations against operators of the PEAKS charter schools, the PEAKS school in the Faribault area was closed.
Sheila Hegna, of Isle, said she looked into incidents involving her niece's son, a special-needs student at the PEAKS school in Duluth, and became frustrated by what she described as state delays in cracking down on the institution.
She said she was left to conclude that the state charter-school law is ripe for abuse. "The way that legislation was written, you could drive a truck through it," she said.
Reichgott Junge said schools that don't perform close. Added regulation is not the answer, she said. A new charter-school board providing training to school operators would help prevent those problems, Reichgott Junge said. The board plan, however, is opposed by Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration, which views it as a new and unnecessary layer of government.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.