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Minneapolis teacher's union approved to authorize charter schools

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Minneapolis Federation of Teachers
The offices of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, in northeast Minneapolis. The union plans to apply to the state to become a charter school authorizer, which would potentially make it the first teachers' union in the nation to be an authorizer
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The Minneapolis teachers' union has become the first in the nation to win the right to authorize charter schools.

State officials have approved a group backed by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers to be a charter school authorizer.

Authorizers don't run charters; they oversee the administrators and school boards that handle day-to-day operations of a charter school.  Authorizers are also primary decision makers on which schools to sponsor.

During the 20-year history of charter schools there have been examples of teachers starting schools, and some charters have unionized teachers.

Formally, MFT created an organization called the Minnesota Guild of Charter Schools (informally 'the Guild') that will serve as authorizer.  It's the first union-backed organization to serve as a charter sponsor.

Union President Lynn Nordgren - who is also a Guild board member - says the hope is to sponsor as many as six schools by mid-2013; that will include both new schools and existing schools that switch their authorizer to the Guild.

"We feel that overall, education has gotten to a place where the teachers' voice has been lost, Nordgren said. "And we feel like having these schools will give us an opportunity to get that voice back."

Nordgren also calls it a risky move, considering unions' previous opposition to charter schools.  But she said sponsoring charters is now seen as a way to get a teacher's voice back into school management. 

"And we want to show that you can, in fact, have great schools and teachers can be in unions at the same time," Nordgren said. "It's really to dispel the myth that's out there that the union is the problem when in fact the union can be one of the ways schools can get better."

The approval brings the number to 26 organizations that can authorize charters in Minnesota. The state rejected four other groups' applications — Alexandria Technical and Community College, Germanic-American Institute, St. Catherine University, and Upper Midwest American Indian Center — but encouraged all four to revise and resubmit their applications.