Rob Levine is a photographer and public school advocate in Minneapolis. In this post, he describes the role of the Minneapolis Foundation in funding a vast expansion of charter schools, which are overwhelmingly non-union. The Minneapolis Foundation has been a fixture in civic life since 1915, funding good works that benefit the entire city. The foundation currently dispenses $125 million.

Levine writes:

So when and why, exactly, did the Minneapolis Foundation start trying to kill the Minneapolis Public Schools?  

For a dozen years the foundation and its philanthropic allies have focused their money and influence on creating a public school system based on free-market “choice.” The reasons for this are twofold. First, the foundation weakens one of the last unionized sectors in the country, public school teachers; in this case, the same ones who are currently striking for higher wages, smaller class sizes, and increased mental health support. Second, it exposes the billions Minnesota spends annually on public education to private-sector profiteers. 

To achieve those goals, the foundation would first flood the city with continuously opening and closing charter schools. Then they would lead a movement to create and fund a raft of dodgy nonprofits to vilify teachers.

Charter Schools: A Minnesota-born Experiment 

In fact, if not for the Minneapolis Foundation, there would be no such thing as charter schools. According to Zero Chance of Passage, a book on the start of charter schools by former Minnesota State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge, author of the nation’s first charter school law, they were dreamed up at a gathering thrown by the foundation in 1988 at Madden’s Resort in central Minnesota. The posh conference was attended by a “distinguished group of business, education, and civic leaders from around the Twin Cities,” Junge writes. 

Although charters today look little like those envisioned by the original proposals, the ideology of the movement still governs: Public schools have to compete for public dollars. Today, of the 180 operating charter schools in the state, five have unionized faculty.

At the time of their creation, many promises were made about the charter school experiment. At first they were to be lab schools, nontraditional learning centers where new education models are tested. Then, proponents said their presence was supposed to make regular public schools better. Then they turned into, essentially, a full-fledged second public school system. The results of the experiment show that charter schools do not get better results on standardized tests, they increase segregation, they put regular public school districts under permanent financial and enrollment pressure, and they have grown a cadre of schools with no teachers’ unions. 

Oh, and they fail a lot. By 2008, 16 years after the first charter school in the nation opened in St. Paul, charter schools had yet to gain a significant foothold in the state, and many had already closed for various, predictable problems, such as self-dealing, lack of adequate curriculum, various financial improprieties, and even lack of a building. The classroom environment amounted to “total bedlam,” one student said in a 2005 City Pages story. 

In a system predicated as a market, there was no market. In response, the Walton Family Foundation (the Walmart heirs) began funding in 2010, with a lot of help from local foundations, an organization called Charter School Partners, which would funnel the Waltons’ money into charter school startup grants to local entrepreneurs. For charter schools, startup is everything, because, once up and running, the state pretty much pays the bills

In 2017, one year after [former mayor] Rybak took charge of the Minneapolis Foundation, there were already more than 14,000 students in charter schools in the city, and the district itself enrolled about 35,000 students. If you plan to create 30,000 new charter school seats in a district that enrolls 35,000 students you clearly intend to destroy that district.

Please open the link and read about the allies and money combined to eliminate public schools in Minneapolis.