PolterheistMinnesota passed the nation’s first charter school law in 1991, and over the years 40 other states and the District of Columbia have approved similar legislation. In Minnesota alone, approximately 16,000 students are enrolled in charters.

Public schools that operate independently of traditional school districts, charters are managed by boards of directors elected by teachers and the parents of children enrolled. Unless a Minnesota charter school has a waiver, over half of its board members are required to be teachers who work within the school.

Charter schools must be nonsectarian, and they may not administer admissions tests or charge tuition. Like other public schools, charters are expected to meet all state and federal health and safety guidelines. In Minnesota, students who attend charter schools are also required to fulfill state requirements for testing and completion of credits for graduation.

Funding for charter schools is based on the average state allocation per pupil. In cases where the state provides extra money for students from low-income families or for students with disabilities, those funds also follow enrolled students.

Charter schools offer parents, teachers, community organizations, and individuals the opportunity to design, develop, and implement new, innovative, and creative ways to educate children. Charter schools provide the opportunity for new ideas and visions in education to take shape. They are an opportunity to involve stakeholders (students, parents, community) in the education process in new and meaningful ways.

All charter schools share two fundamental likenesses. First, they are schools of choice. Students attend charter schools because they choose to, and teachers work in them because they want to. Second, all charters schools are accountable for the goals they have outlined to the state. If boards of directors do not operate in fiscally responsible ways, or if students fail to meet academic standards, charter schools can be closed.

Adapted, with permission, from Schools and Communities Working Together (2001) by the Center for School Change.