Rob Levine, Edhivemn - In both Minneapolis and St. Paul charter schools have secured a major foothold. In Minneapolis there are now 34 operating charter schools that enroll almost 12,000 students. In St. Paul there are now 37 operating charter schools enrolling more than 13,000 students. By comparison both districts currently enroll about 36,000 students. While it's obviously true that students who enroll in a charter school in one city don't necessarily hail from there, the numbers are a good benchmark.
The Walton Family Foundation has started 46% of all open charter schools in Minneapolis
In 2013 Moody's Investors Services issued a report warning that charter schools could drain enough money from regular school districts to in effect create a mini death spiral. It warned that in response to lost revenue districts might “...cut academic and other programs, reducing service levels and thereby driving students to seek educational alternatives, including charter schools...” It's worth remembering that in 2016 the Minneapolis school district experienced an unexpected $20 million shortfall...
The charter school movement, however, is awash in money, and it has developed a pipeline for funneling that cash into new charter schools. One foundation – the Walton Family Foundation – heirs . to the Walmart fortune, has started or helped to start 70 Minnesota charter schools, or 28% of all charter schools ever opened in the state. Of those 70 startups only 46 are still operating, representing 26% of all charters operating in the state.
Democratically elected local school boards used to be the gatekeepers for the creation of new schools and the direction of public tax dollars. No more. Today that function is more and more taken up by private organizations like Charter School Partners that channel large startup grants from one foundation. In essence, school startup decisions in Minnesota are increasingly left to Sam Walton's heirs.
Some of those startup schools received relatively small grants – in the $10,000 range – in the years before they opened. But for the most part the WFF goes in big. It has contributed more than $220,000 each to 46 charter schools in Minnesota in either the years before they opened or the year they opened. Four more charter schools were started by other funders.
...The foundations have a particular fixation with creating and supporting schools, many of them severely segregated, in poor areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul that are also areas of racially concentrated poverty. These schools are, in the words of Myron Orfield from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School, the new “Poverty Academies.” Because many of these schools are racially homogeneous they could just as easily be called “Segregation Academies,” conjuring a dark echo of the days in the US South after Brown vs. Board of Education.
The foundations have collectively given money to 88% of all open charter schools in Minneapolis
By 2016 there were 93 “hypersegregated” schools in the Twin Cities – schools that are more than 95% children of color. Almost two-thirds of those schools are charters. Children of color in the state who attend charter schools are twice as likely as their regular public school counterparts to attend a highly segregated school. In St. Paul there is actually a girls-only charter school - which would seem to be a violation of state law.