New report shows 10 year trend, increasing MN charter K-12 enrollment

By Joe Nathan

Over the last decade, Minnesota charter public schools gained more than 29,000 k-12 students, while Minnesota district public schools k-12 enrollment declined by more than 45,000 students.

That’s one of the central findings of a new report by the Center for School Change, based on an analysis of data on the Minnesota Department of Education Web site.

Moreover, low income students, students of color and students representing “families of color” are disproportionately represented in Minnesota and Minneapolis charters, according to the data.

The report examines trends between 2001-2002 and 2011-12. The report also makes clear that the vast majority of Minnesota students still attend district public schools. However the report also discusses implications of this data. The report also recommends that the state learn from the most effective district and charter public schools, rather than trying to decide which is “better.”

As this is the twentieth anniversary of the nation’s first charter public school law being adopted in Minnesota, the Center for School Change decided to look at k-12 enrollment data from the last decade. In its research, writing and work with schools, the Center consistently has advocated for more effective public schools, whether district or charter.

The Center analyzed data provided to the Minnesota Department of Education from schools and districts as part of the fall, official 2011-2012 student enrollment count. Macalester student Jordan Lim, working with CSC staff members Paj Ntaub Lee and Joe Nathan, examined and compiled k-12 individual charter school data and individual k-12 district data posted on the Minnesota Department of Education website.

Trends over the last decade show:

• Charter public school k-12 enrollment statewide has grown almost 29,000 students from 2001-2002 to 2011-2012 (from 10,162 to 39,129). Meanwhile, district k-12 enrollment has declined by more than 45,000 students (from 831, 535 to 785,729).

• Minneapolis charter public school k-12 enrollment has grown from 1,921 in 2001-2002 to 11,125, while district enrollment has declined from 47,658 to 33,503.

• Minneapolis and Minnesota charters reflect a higher percentage of low income limited English speaking and students of color than the respective comparison groups.

• St. Paul charter public school enrollment has increased by more than 5,000 students, from 3,598 students in 2001-2002 to 9,014 students in 2011-12. Meanwhile St. Paul district k-12 enrollment has declined by more than 6,000, from 43,714 to 37,063 over the same time period.

The report stresses the key differences between families and students being assigned to and allowed to select among different schools. This is in response to some critics who refer to charters that are predominantly one race as “segregated.” The report also points out that the majority of top rated Minnesota public schools that serve 85 percent or more low income are charters.

The report discusses possible implications of these trends. To more effectively meet students’ needs, the report:

• Recommends expanding and replicating successful schools, whether district or charter;

• Praises some districts such as Forest Lake, St. Paul and Minneapolis, that are collaborating in various ways with charters; and

• Encourages continued innovation in district and chartered public schools.

The full report is available as of Monday morning on the Center’s website,


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College. Reactions are welcome via e-mail at jna [email protected]