MN Charters Like Those in Forest Lake More than Triple Enrollment in a Decade

From about 10,000 students to about 39,000, from 100 to more than 2 million. Those are a few of the  statistics that show how Forest Lake is a part of one of the most intriguing educational reforms in the US….the charter public school movement.

School choice is no longer just for the wealthy, who can afford exclusive private elementary or secondary schools that cost $20,000 or more per year.  Their websites show that tuition at

  • St. Paul Academy  ranges from $22,650 to $24,840.
  • Blake tuition is from $13,700 for pre-school to $22,850 for high school.
  • Shattuck-St. Mary’s varies from $25,450 for day students to $39,950 for boarding students.

While each school offers some scholarship assistance,  there are no guarantees.

Let’s acknowledge that some students are extremely successful in district public schools.  Other students and their families have found considerable success in charter public schools such as Lakes International Language Academy or North Lakes Academy, both of which are in Forest Lake.  Other nearby charters include the Academy for Sciences  and Agriculture in Vadnais Heights and the DaVinci Academy in Blaine.

Moreover, the charter idea helped encourage the Forest Lake district to offer a free district Montessori elementary school option.   That’s an example of how offering a charter option can help a district improve itself.

Another intriguing response came recently from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.  Lynn Nordgren, the MFT president wrote to her members that despite their concerns, “charter schools are not going away… It is time to “get in the game”.

MFT is the first teachers’ union in the country to create a group  that has received state approval to authorize charter public schools.    Authorizers receive applications for new schools from educators, parents and others, decide which ones to approve, and monitor the performance of the schools they approve.  An authorizer also decides whether to renew a charter school’s contact, based on their performance and progress toward agreed upon goals.

Back to the numbers…10 years ago, the number of students attending charter public schools was about 10,000, when total enrollment K-12 in Minnesota was about 841,000.

Based on phone calls and emails to Minnesota’s charter public schools last week, our organization learned that about 39,000 students are attending Minnesota charters this fall.  Meanwhile, according to the Minnesota Department of Education, the number of youngsters overall attending public schools (district and charter) went 841,000 in 2001-2002 to just under 838,000 in 2010-11.  So, while the overall number of k-12 students attending public schools has declined in the last decade (as of last year), the number of students going to charters increased by almost 4 times.

Recently a report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools showed that this fall, an estimated 2 million students are attending charters.  That’s up from less than 100 students who attended the first school to function in 1992 as a charter, City Academy in St. Paul.

Not all charters are great places.  Governor Dayton and Commissioner Cassellius have urged that we learn from outstanding charters and district schools.  They’re right.

The now 20 year-old movement has given families new options, and educators more to learn from.