From A Single Charter School, A Movement Grows | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

From A Single Charter School, A Movement Grows

Play associated audio

City Academy in St. Paul, Minn., became the nation's first publicly funded, privately run charter school when it opened its doors in 1992. Its founders, all veteran public school teachers, had tried but failed to create new programs for struggling students in their own schools.

The school helped launch a movement that has since grown to 5,600 charter schools across the U.S. But back in the late 1980s, it faced strong resistance.

Milo Cutter, one of City Academy's founders, had grown frustrated at her old school, where kids dropped out in droves. Around that time, state lawmakers in Minnesota were pushing to create so-called "outcome-based" schools, later called charter schools.

Cutter saw an opportunity to open a school for kids who were lost or forgotten.

"They were older students, and as most people are aware, that's not a high-priority group," Cutter says.

But the idea of the school sparked opposition. Critics argued that publicly funded, privately run charter schools would take money away from traditional public schools. Former Minnesota State Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, who authored the first charter school law in the country, says unions in Minnesota were also opposed to the idea.

Although the nation's second-largest teachers' union had favored charters as early as 1988, Minnesota unions warned that charter schools would turn kids into "guinea pigs."

Ultimately, City Academy opened with a tiny budget and 53 students. Twenty years later, it has twice as many kids. Almost all are low-income, and many have repeatedly failed Minnesota's basic skills test. Some have been incarcerated.

Much has changed in Minnesota as a whole in the past two decades. This fall, charter schools in the state will enroll approximately 38,000 students — or 5 percent of the state's total K-12 population. Union opposition has faded, in part because teachers in traditional public schools aren't happy with the status quo, either.

Louise Sundin helped create the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools, the nation's first union-funded group with the power to authorize charters. She says that in Minnesota at least, most teachers have found that charter schools can empower them, too.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Do Touch The Artwork At Prado's Exhibit For The Blind

The renowned Spanish museum has made 3-D copies of some of its most iconic works to allow blind people to feel them.
NPR

Game For Ancient Grain: Palestinians Find Freekeh Again

The young, roasted form of wheat has been eaten in the Middle East for millennia. But over time many Palestinians replaced it with rice. Now it's becoming a nutritious, native food worthy of pride.
NPR

Just How Big Is The Asia Trade Deal Obama Wants? It's A Beast

The 12 countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership account for almost 36 percent of world's economy, which would make TPP by far the largest U.S. trade pact.
WAMU 88.5

New Transit App, Split, Pushes User To Share The Backseat

A new entrant into the growing world of on-demand transportation apps in the District uses sustainability as its pitch — with users sharing the ride with others going the same direction.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.