NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Minnesota's Governor Champions School Choice

July 3, 1997

When the Minnesota legislature refused to lift a cap on the number of deregulated charter schools in the state, Governor Arne Carlson stunned legislators by announcing he wouldn't sign any bill that did not expand school choice to all Minnesota parents.

The legislature continued to buck him. Teachers' unions were up in arms and flooded legislators with complaints. But black and Hispanic leaders backed the plan, and it got 60 percent to 80 percent support in the polls. Carlson eventually won.

Here's what he got:

  • Legislators agreed to allow an unlimited number of charter schools and also increase the annual tax deduction to $2,500 from $1,000 for each junior and senior high school student.
  • Parents of grade schoolers will be allowed a $1,625 deduction for each year of charter schooling.
  • A new refundable educational tax credit of $1,000 per child for families earning under $33,500 a year for supplies, transportation and tutoring.

Those familiar with the contest say that Gov. Carlson has proved that the political clout of teachers' unions is largely illusory. The unions vigorously opposed any tax credits, claiming the plan "added nothing for public education."

"A governor went toe-to-toe with the teachers unions and choice prevailed," Carlson says. "It can be done."

  • Jeanne Allen, of the Center for Education Reform, says that the unions "claim to be able to defeat choice supporters at elections, but they never do."
  • A report prepared by a consulting group for the National Education Association warns that union that its "very existence" is in doubt, and that absent bold moves it risks "further marginalization and possibly even organizational death."

Source: Editorial, "School Lessons," Wall Street Journal, July 3, 1997.


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