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Head of school's view: Let’s get facts right about charter schools

Over the past few months, a significant amount of misinformation has been shared about charter schools as a whole and specifically about Duluth Edison Charter Schools. It's time to get facts right.Duluth Edison Charter Schools, as with all other ...

Bonnie Jorgenson
Bonnie Jorgenson

Over the past few months, a significant amount of misinformation has been shared about charter schools as a whole and specifically about Duluth Edison Charter Schools. It’s time to get facts right.
Duluth Edison Charter Schools, as with all other charter schools in the country, is a public, tuition-free school. Charters are not private schools.
The Duluth Edison Charter Schools’ School Board is made up of 11 individuals elected by the caregivers of the students in our schools and our staff. The board includes three teachers who work at our schools, caregivers of our students and local community members. While the size and election cycle for other charter boards may vary from ours, all charter school boards follow public open meeting laws.
The majority of charter schools in the country serve low-income families who have made the choice to have their students attend. The current student population of Duluth Edison Charter Schools
is 18.5 percent students of color, 38.3 percent students whose families’ incomes qualify them to receive free or reduced lunches, and 15.4 percent students who receive special education services. Any characterization of a charter school population as elitist is simply wrong.
In Minnesota, each charter school is required to be provided with oversight by an authorizer vetted for this role via a rigorous process through the Minnesota Department of Education. The authorizer, in turn, has a contract with clear expectations in mission, governance, performance, finance and operations. Failure to meet the authorizer’s accountability measures can result in the closure of a charter school. This is a higher accountability measure than a “regular” public school faces.
Additionally, charter schools in Minnesota are accountable to the state Department of Education - just like other public schools. The Duluth Edison Charter Schools has been successfully audited in the areas of finance, special education, food service and other reporting measures by the Department of Education on several occasions and has received the department’s “School Finance Award” for several years.
As mentioned, charter school boards are made up of local residents. For the past 18 years, the School Board for the Duluth Edison Charter Schools has had a contract for services with EdisonLearning.
A change planned for several months will become effective June 30 when Duluth Edison Charter Schools no longer will contract with EdisonLearning. All services and business done previously by EdisonLearning will be done locally.
EdisonLearning has no connection to anything occurring at the Duluth Edison Charter Schools or at any of the facilities owned by Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. EdisonLearning is not involved in the effort or planning to build a high school for Edison in Duluth. It is a local initiative.
Charter schools follow the same state and federal regulations related to qualifying students for special education that other public schools follow. The Duluth Edison Charter Schools has successfully completed several special education program and fiscal audits by the Department of Education over the past 18 years.
Delivery of special education services to children with disabilities is mandated by the federal government, and although there are federal and state supports directed to the student, these bodies expect the student’s community to assist in the cost of service delivery. As charter schools are not taxing authorities, the only way for community support for these students is for the local district to pay for some of the costs incurred. It would cost the district the same (even more) to provide these services itself.
As we celebrate National Charter Schools Week this first week in May, Duluth Edison Charter Schools is ending our 18th year in the Duluth community. We are focused on our mission of achieving academic and personal excellence for every student. That has been and will continue to be our primary focus: our students.

Bonnie Jorgenson is head of school for the Duluth Edison Charter Schools.

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