Minnesota Court Of Appeals Ruling On Status Of Charter School Corporations

On Monday, June 8, 2015, a three (3) judge panel of the Minnesota State Court of Appeals ruled in the case Tipka v. Lincoln International Charter School that a charter school is not a public corporation. The Court’s decision is a significant decision.

First, it clarifies that charter school nonprofit corporations are not public corporations, like independent school districts.

The court stated: “Despite the educational purpose of charter schools and their other similarities to traditional public schools, the legislature has distinguished charter schools from other public schools in ways that indicate charter schools are not public corporations whose decisions are subject to our certiorari review.”

The Court in the decision outlines the rationale and laws that clarify legislative intent is that charter school corporations are not public corporations.

So what does this mean in English?

It means that, given charter schools are not public corporations, the Court of Appeals does not have jurisdiction or authority to order a review of the decisions of a charter school board. In this case (Tipka v Lincoln), Tipka filed a petition with the Court of Appeals to have the court review the Lincoln Charter School Board’s decision to terminate his employment. Because a charter school board is not a public corporation, the Court said that it does not have the authority to review or overturn the board’s decision.

If a charter school corporation were a public corporation, then the Court of Appeals would have the right to order a review of the decisions of the charter school board, because the Minnesota Supreme Court has rules that a writ of certiorari (order a review) is the “proper method of appealing school board decisions on teacher related matters”.

Second, in this decision the Court acknowledged that in a 2010 case, Ellis v BlueSky Charter School, it assumed that it had jurisdiction, because the issue of whether a charter school was or was not a public corporation was not raised in that case. In the end, the Court said, while it was assumed to have jurisdiction in the Ellis v BlueSky case, legislative action since that time makes it clear that the legislature’s intent is not to define charter school corporations as public corporations.

So what does the Court decision mean going forward?

It means, since charter schools are created under the nonprofit law, the legal remedies that apply to nonprofits need to be applied when someone wants to challenge charter school actions. The legal remedy is through filing a case in district court – not the MN Court of Appeals.

Eugene Piccolo
Executive Director