Ember Reichgott Junge
Ember Reichgott Junge is the “Mother” of the chartered school movement, being the Senate author of Minnesota’s first in the nation chartered school law.
Being the “mother” of what has become an international movement, is an extra ordinarily feat in and of itself. Ember’s pioneering legislative work that eventually gave birth to the chartered school law, began in October, 1988 when she learned about the chartered school concept at an Itasca Seminar held in northern Minnesota. She wrote in her book – ‘Zero Change of Passage’ that “Frankly, her head was spinning” after the discussions about chartered schools.
By December, just a couple of months later, her head had stopped spinning enough that she sat down with Betsy Rice, the Senate Education Counsel at the time to draft an education reform bill that included legislation to create chartered schools.
While the chartered school legislation went down to defeat in 1989 and 1990, Ember continued to work toward its enactment –which occurred in 1991 when there was a new draft of legislation and a political decision to change the name of these proposed schools from chartered schools to outcome-based schools.
Legislative pioneers often have to take on the entrenched interests of the time and the protectors of the status quo. Ember and her fellow chartered school pioneers had to take on the Minnesota School Board Association, Education Minnesota and the Minnesota Federation of Teachers – all of whom opposed the chartered school concept for a variety of reasons.
When Ember looked back in 2011, twenty years after passage of Minnesota’s chartered school law, she wrote; “I realized chartered school proponents were fortunate on two counts: First, the forces against charter schools, particularly in the House didn’t take the legislation seriously, based on how it had been defeated the previous two years. And, second, unknown to almost everyone, the Speaker of the House was predisposed to the passage of the chartering legislation”.
While one would think after a three year fight to enact the legislation that Ember would have been in a celebratory mood. However, she wrote that “she was in no mood to party, after being battered and bruised after riding an emotional roller coaster for a month” – during which time she had to make legislative compromises that she thought “Was the resulting legislation even worth it?”
Not only was the resulting legislation worth it, as Minnesota’s law became the model for legislation in other states, and a catalyst for federal legislation to provide funding for the creation of chartered public schools across the nation.
In the years following the enactment of the law in 1991, Ember continued her legislative work to enhance the chartered school law until her retirement in 2000.
During those years she supported legislation to create independent sponsors/authorizers (colleges and universities), remove the cap on the number of chartered schools, provide start-up funds for chartered schools, and provide lease aid to chartered schools.
After her retirement from the legislature she has continued to promote chartered public schools. In Minnesota she has often worked behind the scenes to educate legislators about chartering. On the national level she has been engaged with a number of organizations that promote and work with chartered public schools, but most importantly she has been the storyteller extraordinaire of the origins and history of a movement of which she is the “mother”.
Ember Reichgott Junge you are a Minnesota Charter School Pioneer who helped “Unleash Education from Convention” as the author of Minnesota’s first in the nation chartered school law.