Skip to main content

NOTICE: The Charter Vision project is dormant as of January 2008. This website is provided for archival purposes only.

Minnesota’s Charter School Law

Minnesota’s Pioneering Charter School Law

In 1991, the Minnesota Legislature began a revolution in the organization and governance of public education that has now spread to forty other states and the District of Columbia. The idea behind this revolution was simple: Pass a law that grants parents, teachers and others in the community the opportunity to start and run new public schools outside the direct control of local school districts. You may also wish to view a brief summary of Minnesota’s pioneering charter school law.

These new public schools were to be authorized for a specified term and granted a “charter” that would define academic and other goals and set the basic ground rules for their operation. They would be less regulated, but would have to abide by the underlying principles of public education: Be open to all, publicly funded, no discrimination, no tuition, no teaching religion. They would be judged on the results they achieved. They would be schools of choice.

This Minnesota-born idea has spread quickly across the country, with over 3,300 charter schools in operation during the 2004 school year — serving more than 800,000 students. The significance of this idea was also recognized in 2000 when Minnesota’s charter law received the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

This annual award salutes outstanding examples of creative problem-solving in the public sector. It also helps finance dissemination of information on the winning innovations, including the launch and initial operation of this Web site.

Use the side bar on the left to navigate this summary of the history and current status of Minnesota’s charter schools and the law that makes them possible.

(Web editor’s note: Much of the content of this summary is drawn from a report on Minnesota’s pioneering charter school law, “Ripples of Innovation,” published by the Washington, D.C. base Public Policy Institute in April of 2004. You may view that report in its entirety. Additional updated information on Minnesota’s charter schools was drawn from a December 2004 report published by Education|Evolving entitled “Trend Accelerating Toward an ‘Open Sector’ in Public Education.” You may also view that report. Both reports were authored by Jon Schroeder, a veteran Minnesota public policy analyst and former journalist and now coordinator of Education Evolving.)