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Charter schools seek borrowing help to deal with school aid shift, but odds are slim

The first major lobbying effort of the new day of an open Capitol was sweet — but probably not successful.

A few hundred kids of all colors from charter schools in the metro area sat on the steps of the Capitol singing songs and waving “Save our school” signs.

Officials from several charters said that the K-12 school shift will fall particularly hard on charters, which — unlike traditional public school districts — can’t borrow at very low rates. Charters sometimes can end up paying interest rates as high as 23 percent to borrow money that’s been shifted from their coffers.

“At least let us borrow at the same rate as public schools,” pleaded Mary Donaldson, who heads Concordia Creative Learning Center.

Then, she turned to the kids on the steps.

“How many of you love your schools?” she asked.

“Yay!” the kids shouted.

“How many of you are going to summer school because you want to?” she asked.

“Yay!” the kids shouted.

“How many of you like Saturday school,” she asked.

More yays.

Away from the microphones, several charter school officials were asked if they were invited to share their thoughts during the closed-door negotiating sessions of recent days.

They laughed at the suggestion.

The doors were always closed to them — as they were to most Minnesotans.

Minnesota established charter schools in 1991. According to Al Fan, executive director of Charter School Partners, there currently are 140 charter schools in the state, educating about 35,000 kids.

But this K-12 shift, on the heels of the previous shift, will have a devastating effect on the viability of those schools.

“We have the largest achievement gap in the nation,” said Eric Mahmoud of Harvest Academy to a gaggle of reporters on the steps. “We have an achievement gap because we have a leadership gap. We teach our children all they have to do is work hard, but it’s so much harder when there’s always someone pulling against you.”

Any hope that legislators will hear the pleas in these last hours?

There was silence from the charter leaders.

And there was little hope they’d get what they sought. No amendments are to be offered on the bills that leaders have agreed to.

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