How did the “charter” school idea begin?

November 3, 2010 •

Recently in the Wall Street Journal and Education Next there were accounts of the origins of chartering. We thought we might take the liberty of adding our version, since the first legislative implementation of the idea occurred in Minnesota and a number of those now in Education|Evolving were involved.

Asking “Where did it start?” is like asking where a river starts. There’s no single source, but several little streams flowing together. Albert Shanker and Ray Budde had the ‘charter’ idea early. Minnesota got it into law; seeing ‘charter’ not as a kind of school but as a platform for developing different schools.

It was mostly word of mouth. No master plan; no national ‘project’. Not many education-policy groups supportive; the academic community inattentive. Efforts in the states were strikingly bipartisan; enacting what ‘realists’ said couldn’t possibly be done. Importantly, too: Congressional legislation in 1994 deferred to state lawmaking.

* * *

And, the story continues. In July 2010, we covered on our blog how the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers received a grant from the American Federation of Teachers to design and seek approval of a new nonprofit ‘authorizer’ able to charter schools under law. Two teachers–one from Saint Paul; one from Milwaukee–met with Arne Duncan and the top staff of the Department of Education late in April to explain how this works.
The visions of Budde and Shanker may yet be realized in full.