“The time had come for teachers and parents to step forward and create charter schools.”
Ember Reichgott Junge, “Zero Chance Of Passage,” p. 203 (2012)
With the 2023-24 school year underway, the charter school movement, born and bred in Minnesota, is growing stronger than ever. The institution has a quintessential Minnesota heritage, like water skiing, Zamboni ice machines, and lutefisk, among other items of local lineage.
Naturally, like other Minnesota-originated features, charter schools have had their share of litigation, most of which has resulted in victory for the educational institutions.
The start of the school year provides an opportune occasion to review those cases, including two decided earlier this year, in the context of the development and growth of the charter school movement in this state.
The charter school concept arose in 1991, championed by Ember Reichgott, now Reichgott Junge, a long time influential Minnesota state senator from the northwest Twin Cities suburbs. The DFLer conceived the idea, spearheaded it, and ultimately managed to get it enacted through legislation, with the full support of then-Gov. Rudy Perpich, who, like her, happened to have Croatian ancestry.
Reichgott, who served in leadership positions in the Senate, and the governor from the Iron Range were instrumental in the legislation, Minn. Stat. §124E.02, et. seq., that formed the foundation for the birth and growth the movement, which started slowly, gathered momentum, and more recently, snowballed to the point where Minnesota has steadily increasing numbers of facilities, students and staff, a pattern reflected in a number of other states as well.
A St. Olaf undergraduate, St. Thomas (MBA), and Duke Law School alumna, Reichgott Junge incidentally celebrated a significant birthday earlier this week, Aug. 22, to be precise. That’s a little more than a decade after she wrote a compelling account in 2012 of her struggles and successes in a riveting book entitled “Zero Chance of Passage,” subtitled “The Pioneering Charter School Story.” The publication aptly depicts the long odds she faced in her campaign and was praised by no less a high-profile figure as President Bill Clinton who called it “a fascinating and detailed account of the bipartisan movement to revive the American school system.”
Speaking of campaigns, she later faltered in a couple of other political ones, losing an effort to become attorney general and also a race for a vacant seat in the 5th Congressional District, which was ultimately won by Keith Ellison, who later became the state attorney general.
Nonetheless, after an 18-year stint in the state Senate, 1983-2001, she went on to other successes, including serving as a radio talk show host, television political commentator, and practicing lawyer, in addition to her participation in an organization geared to acclimating youth to the joys of dancing, one of her favorite pastimes, titled “Heart of Dance.”
There was considerable risk for her when she initiated the charter school movement. It was, at that time, an unknown feature. Further, it angered many public school educators as well as labor union leadership, who have long been a significant base for her DFL Party.
But the risk was rewarded, resulting in a now well-established feature of the education system, for better or worse, in this state and throughout the country, too.
Not surprisingly, charter schools have attracted their share of litigation over the years, including two decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals this past spring.
Here’s a look at sone of the litany of litigation, beginning with the two from this year.
The charter school movement has made its mark around the country since its birth here in Minnesota 3-plus decades ago. From zero to large numbers of facilities, students, teachers and staff have become a staple in the educational system both here and nationally, and their participation is likely to grow in the years ahead.
Charter schools by the numbers
Marshall H. Tanick is an attorney with the Twin Cities Law firm of Meyer Njus Tanick.
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