Twenty-five years ago this month, Minnesota passed the country’s first charter school law. Since then, the charter sector has expanded exponentially and evolved significantly.
When former Minnesota lawmaker Ember Reichgott Junge authored that first charter law, it was in hopes of providing more opportunities for Minnesota children in their own neighborhoods, in a time when most children couldn’t go across town and find another school, even if they had access to one.
California’s charter school law followed closely on the heels of Minnesota’s, and helped propel the idea into the national consciousness.
Today, although charter school students only make up about 5 percent of the 50 million K-12 public school students in the country, the movement as a whole has become its own sector, with thousands of schools, a cadre of deep-pocketed benefactors, dozens of advocacy groups, and sophisticated networks of schools that in some cases dwarf the nation’s average-size school district.
The contrast of these two schools—one led by the teachers, a living example of the early visions of charter schools, and the other part of a large urban network, laser-focused on college prep—show how much the charter movement has changed and divided since Minnesota became the first to allow the publicly funded, independent schools to open.
At Avalon, teachers run all aspects of the school and students learn largely through hands-on projects. At Alliance, students take courses meant to prepare them for higher education and, in many cases, to become the first members of their families to make it into college.
Today, Junge (author of the first charter-school law) says she is most concerned about different sectors within the charter sector itself.
“We have networks and we have individual schools. I think there’s room for everyone, and we don’t want one to dominate the other. We have to bring it back to the origins if chartering is going to succeed.”
Although she believes there should be more unique ideas coming out of the charter sector, Junge points to recent polling numbers as proof that the experiment is a success.
“I’m very thrilled that even today, two-thirds of America supports chartering,” she said. “I ask you what else does two-thirds of America support today?”
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Air: A Video Blog blog.