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Minneapolis Union Will Help Authorize Charter Schools

A nonprofit body set up by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has been granted the authority to charter schools, in what's apparently the first such arrangement of its kind in the nation.

An charter authorizer, let's be clear, is not the same thing as a charter-management organization. It does not act as management or get involved in the operations of such a school. Its main goal is to approve the new schools to open, to monitor them, and to shut them down if necessary if they fail to meet academic or financial benchmarks.

Minnesota's charter school law was updated and strengthened in 2009 (see section 41 in this link). The revisions give the state more flexibility to cut ties with an authorizer if it's not meeting its obligations.

Now, to answer the question I'm sure you have: No, the organization won't be able to give preferential treatment to schools whose staff want to organize. But authorizing schools with good teacher-management relations appears to be a priority of the body, which is named the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools.

"The guild believes that strong partnerships between labor and management foster a high-performing school culture; the guild is committed to authorizing schools that give teachers a meaningful voice," a statement from the guild reads.

(And, one presumes, any school staff that want to authorize will certainly know where to look.)

The idea is the brainchild of MFT President Lynn Nordgren, and her affiliate received a grant from AFT's Innovation Fund to set up the new nonprofit. She'll sit on the guild's board, along with a variety of other folks from business, the city department of education, and labor organizations.

We'll be waiting impatiently to see what kinds of schools the guild authorizes, and whether their teachers choose to organize.

Coming up with new ways of managing and using teacher expertise, after all, isn't an easy job: A separate report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, also out today, finds that despite more flexibility in some areas, like work hours, unionized charter schools often contain the same kinds of step-and-lane pay scales, due process, and grievance procedures (though expedited) as those in public schools.

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