More than one in nine of Minnesota's charter schools have taken advantage of a loophole in state law to buy or build their own buildings using public money intended to help them lease space. The loophole allows charter schools to bypass the voter approval that traditional school districts need before buying or building schools.
The charter school lease aid law was passed in 1997 to help charters rent space and compensate for the fact those schools can't levy taxes or use bond measures to buy property.
Of the state's 180 charter schools, more than 20 have used lease aid to get a permanent site. From PACT Charter School in the northwest metro area to Paideia Academy in the southeast, charters are setting up affiliated nonprofit corporations to own the buildings, financed with corporate bonds, leased back to the schools and paid for with state lease aid.
And an expanding lease aid budget, set against a general education fund struggling to keep up with inflation, could trigger a debate between legislators seeking to rein in the lease aid fund and charters who say it is still a poor substitute for direct ownership of a building. . . .
. . . .Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Finance Division, was one of the lease aid bill's sponsors along with current Department of Education Commissioner Alice Seagren.
Greiling said she still supports lease aid, but added, "Any time you give a group an inch, they can take a mile." Ownership of buildings was an unintended consequence of the law, she said.
Seagren, a Republican who served from 1992 to 2004 in the Legislature, said charter schools owning buildings through nonprofits is a mechanism for charters to obtain suitable space when none is available for rent.
She also pointed out there has been no legal challenge to the practice. But a 2003 legislative auditor's report recommended lawmakers review it.
Deborah Parker Junod, project manager of that audit, said charter schools that use nonprofits to own buildings are "clearly circumventing the law." . . . .
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Corporate Welfare Charter Schools in Minnesota Minus Taxpayer Approval
When will a state legislature stop the thievery that is destroying public education? From the Star-Tribune: