Ted Kolderie is the “godfather” of the charter school movement. In her 2011 book, “Zero Chance of Passage”, Ember Reichgott Junge wrote that “The truth is, the one person most responsible for the emergence and success of chartering is Kolderie”.
The success that she was referring to is rooted in the fact that Ted is an education policy entrepreneur – who has been an intellectual force behind a number of innovative education policy initiatives that include open enrollment, PSEO, self-governed schools, teacher empowerment, and charter schools.
One can trace back his entrepreneurial policy work to when he was the Executive Director of the Citizens League in the 1970’s and his quest to find new ways of delivering government services.
Thirty years ago as a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey Institute, Ted was a member of the Citizens League Task Force that was studying the concept of charter schools as part of a series of education reforms. In October of that year (1988), Ted was a participant in the Itasca Seminar at which Al Shanker - then President of the American Federation of Teachers - posited the idea of charter schools.
The Citizens League report was issued in November, 1988, with the recommendation that the legislature enact a law creating charter schools. Over the next couple of months, Ted worked with Senator Reichgott Junge and Senate Counsel to draft a bill.
In 1990, Ted wrote a paper that outlined what would become a seminal concept of chartering: that the state would have to withdraw its exclusive franchise in public education from school districts.
He wrote, “A district fears new schools, even its own. Its interest is in restricting existing schools… they cannot let their options be limited to actions that begin with “re”, restricting, revitalizing, reforming and retraining institutions… there must also be a way to create different and better schools new.”
In that paper Ted also outlined the idea of charter schools having sponsors by organizations other than school districts and their importance to the chartered system. He wrote.” It is critical that sponsors not own the school. If it did, it would control the process, as districts do now. It should be required to control through performance. The school must be separate.”
These two ideas were and still are the fundamental ideas and concepts that underpin the chartered school movement.
Later that year, Ted urged the Commissioner of Education to convene a group to think through new charter school legislation –given these ideas and the fact that the original legislation proposed in 1989 and 1990 sessions had not moved forward. One of the recommendations for political reasons was to rename chartered schools to outcomes-based schools.
With the recommendations in hand Ted, and Senator Reichgott Junge sat down again with Senate Counsel to draft new legislation for the 1991 session. After Ted had outlined the key element of chartered schools Senate Counsel Betsy Rice remarked that “These are not public schools.” Ted responded that “They are part of the state program of public education.”
The sentiment expressed in his response is embodied in the charter school law, MN Statute 124E.03 Subd. (1) which states: “A charter school is a public school and is part of the state’s system of public education.”
Ted’s paper on withdrawing the exclusive franchise from school districts drew national attention and was instrumental in helping then Governor Bill Clinton who was head of the Democratic Leadership Council to support chartering. Clinton stated in a 1992 campaign interview that; “The Ted Kolderie paper was critical in the charter school thing”… He went on to say that charter schools and other proposed reforms were ‘…things that changed the whole course of Democratic policies.’
Ted’s work not only impacted Democratic policies, it impacted Republican policies as well. Within days of the enactment of Minnesota’s charter school law, Senator David Durenberger, one of our state’s Republican U.S. Senators at the time, introduced federal legislation to provide start-up funds for chartered schools in states that would enact charter school laws.
After the enactment of Minnesota’s charter law, Ted became the “godfather” of the charter school movement who people from other states looked to for not only for the key elements of what a charter school law should include but also for how chartering was a means for innovation in public education.
Ted Kolderie, you are a Minnesota Charter School Pioneer who helped “Unleash Education from Convention”, as the intellectual “godfather” of the foundational ideas of chartered public schools.