With strong options, state’s charter law ranked No. 1

Joe Nathan

Minnesota educators, students, parents and policy-makers received another honor recently. the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked our state’s charter law as number 1 in the country. Thanks to a strong law, suburban and rural, as well as urban Minnesota families, have high quality options, including district and charter schools.

Most Minnesota families continue sending their children to public schools. But research by our Center for School Change found that in the last decade, the number of Minnesota students enrolled in charter schools increased by almost 30,000, while the number of students attending district schools declined by more than 40,000.
Whether their preference is a Montessori elementary, or junior-senior high, a classical academy that teaches Latin, an arts-focused high school, a project based school promoting “hands-on” learning, Chinese immersion or an online school, Minnesota’s charter law has helped create new options for families throughout the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius have wisely recommended that district and charter schools spend more time learning from each other and less time debating which is better. Both types of public schools vary widely. Here are examples of what Minnesota’s charter law has helped produce.
Tom Kearney directs New Heights School, a Stillwater-area charter that offers families a k-12 option. He writes,“It feels great to be a director of a charter school in a state that has always had a high level of support for charter schools. Minnesota blazed the trail as a pioneer of charters and our school was opened shortly thereafter in 1993. I have seen a lot of changes to charter school law and recognize the need for even more oversight and accountability if we are to be taken seriously and respected as an equal partner in education. With almost 40,000 students attending Minnesota charter schools, it would seem that charters are here to stay and are widely embraced by the greater education community!”

Eagle Ridge Academy, a K-12 charter in Eden Prairie and St. Croix Preparatory Academy in Stillwater provide a “classical” education for families, as well as a single building to which families can send all their children, if they choose to do so.
Barbara Wornson is director of the Main Street School for Performing Arts, an arts-focused charter high school in Hopkins. The school offers beginning to advanced classes in music, theatre and dance. She said, “I’m proud to be involved with the Minnesota Charter School movement and am pleased to see the law recognized for excellence. The law is a living document that serves us well as we continue to improve our programs. “

Trio/Wolf Creek, Edvisions Off Campus, and Minnesota Virtual High School offer  “online” learning programs for families throughout the state.
Minnesota is learning that district and charter public schools, like colleges and universities, can simultaneously compete and cooperate. It’s not one or the other. It can be both. Our Center runs several programs in which district and charter leaders and teachers are learning with and from each other.

While “pleased” that Minnesota ranked No. 1, Al Fan, director of the Minnesota based Charter School Partners said, “We must do a better job of utilizing the charter model to create great schools for all Minnesota kids.”

Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools added, “Our law is a dynamic document that we work to refine as the charter school movement evolves, and strives to achieve the purposes and goals of public charter schools.”

Piccolo’s organization provides a list and map, plus other information about charters at www.mncharterschools.org/directories/

Joe Nathan is a former public school teacher who directs the Center for School Change and writes for ECM Publishing. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]