Charter school cap could raise quality

A proposed cap on the number of charter schools deserves consideration.

Charter schools have gained a sizable chunk of the school market in recent years. Since Minnesota began providing public dollars for charter schools in 1991, they have blossomed into an important part of the educational sector. As they have grown in numbers, they have brought with them a degree of controversy.

Minnesota opened its first charter school in 1992, and they have steadily gained popularity. Charter school enrollment jumped from 10,162 in 2001 to 23,689 this year. They are public, but each is operated independently. The quality of education at charter schools can vary greatly from school to school, and it is unclear whether these schools are having an overall positive or negative impact on Minnesota’s education system.

Last week, state Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, chair of the Senate’s E-12 Education Budget Committee, proposed placing a cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state of Minnesota. Currently, there are 131 charter schools, and Sen. Stumpf’s recommendation would limit the number to 150.

The State Capitol was flooded with a barrage of phone calls from charter school cheerleaders following Sen. Stumpf’s announcement last week, but a cap should seriously be considered. In 2003, Minnesota was home to 76 charter schools, and we now have 131. With 19 openings planned for next year, the state needs to take action before the number of charter schools cannot be supported. At this point, the success of charter schools is highly inconclusive. Despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence supporting the merits of charter school education, the academic successes have been marred by financial mismanagement and disastrous academic progress at some schools.

Perhaps a cap is unnecessary right now, and charter schools can certainly be a part of Minnesota’s educational strategy, but it would be unwise to suggest that everything is fine. The current growth rate of charter schools cannot be supported into the future, and a cap could be an effective way to increase quality at the existing schools.