Charters leading traditional districts in MDE Finance Award / Joe Nathan’s Column

Joe Nathan

Here’s a brief financial report that should not put people to sleep. Overall, about 70 percent of Minnesota’s school districts and charters recently received the Minnesota Department of Education Finance Award.

But according to data from Keith Hovis, MDE’s deputy communications director, there’s almost a 20-point difference between the percentage of traditional district and charters that received the award. Eighty-three percent of 152 chartered public schools and 64 percent of the 335 traditional districts were honored. Also awarded were 79 percent of what MDE classifies as 62 “other entities” such as intermediate school districts and area learning centers.

The award was given to 389 districts and charters out of 549 eligible to receive it. The award represents responsible, important work by schools that received the award. A list of area districts and charters receiving the award is provided below.

MDE used three major criteria, which were listed as:

–Timely submission of financial reports.

–Presence of select indicators of fiscal health.

–Accuracy in financial reports.

Districts all across the state received the award, from Caledonia to Little Falls, Waconia to Stillwater and Burnsville to Princeton. Charters recieving the award were varied and spread far and wide, as well, including Main Street School of Performing Arts in Hopkins, Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake, Beacon Academy in Maple Grove and Seven Hills in Bloomington.

Anoka-Hennepin and Minneapolis, two of the state’s three largest districts did receive the award. The third, St. Paul, did not. (Editor’s note: MDE reviewed St. Paul’s new software system for financial reporting and, after this column was published, decided to give the award to the district. A letter from MDE dated April 1 to St. Paul Public Schools informed the district it had received the award.)

A complete list of those receiving the award is available at

At a time when taxpayers and legislators are looking at how public funds are being spent, MDE is wise to highlight places where reports are accurate and being filed on time. Equally important, the award recognizes districts and charter schools that have not overspent money they received from taxpayers. It’s encouraging to see the vast majority are “doing the right thing.”

At the same time, in communities that did not receive the award, I hope school boards and community members ask officials what they plan to do differently in the coming year.

Educators face constant and sometimes competing demands. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything that might be done. Of course the central purpose of public schools is to help youngsters achieve their potential. But part of doing this is making responsible use of the funds that taxpayers provide.

So congratulations to those schools and districts that received the Finance Award. Thanks to MDE for recognizing their hard work.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment below.