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Senator David Durenberger

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Senator David Durenberger is a trailblazing pioneer for his advocacy of chartered public schools and federal funding to help grow and spread the charter school movement through the enactment of the Federal Charter School Program.

On July 31, 1991, only 57 days after the enactment of Minnesota’s first-in-the-nation chartered public school law, Senator Durenberger along with Senator Joseph Lieberman introduced the PUBLIC SCHOOL REDEFINITION ACT of 1991.  The purpose of the Act was to establish a demonstration program to “encourage state educational agencies to assist teachers, parents and communities establish new public schools…”

Like Minnesota’s law, at the beginning these new schools were referred to as outcome-based schools. In his speech introducing the bill, Senator Durenberger states, “States like Minnesota, that have led the nation in expanding parent choice, are now moving to the next stage of education reform by encouraging more choices. My legislation puts the federal government squarely behind states that want to take the next step.”

While the bill did not pass in 1991 or 1992, Senator Durenberger and his legislation brought the concept to national attention and sparked action in states across the country to enact laws themselves.  While he was promoting the bill, he visited Winona to meet with the people who were establishing Bluffview Montessori School. He went there to get firsthand exposure to the realities of starting a new school, which graphically demonstrated the need for the Public School Redefinition Act. 

In March 1993, Senator Durenberger reintroduced the legislation with even more bi-partisan support. The big change in the legislation was that the new schools were called “charter public schools.” In early October 1994, with support from Senator Kennedy, chair of the Senate Committee, the charter school program (CSP) was included in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)of 1994. Upon passage he thanked his colleagues for the support and said, “I am very pleased that my recommendations regarding the Charter Schools Program were accepted in conference committee. The changes I proposed authorize a stronger role for states in awarding grants, defers to states on what public agencies may charter schools and promotes a stronger leadership role on charter schools for the U.S. Secretary of Education.”

Since its enactment in 1994, the Federal Charter School Program (CSP) has provided billions of dollars to help grow and spread the charter school movement. Over that 28-year period, Minnesota has received over $155 million for growing its charter schools, which today enroll over 7% of public-school students in the state.

Senator David Durenberger, you are a Minnesota Charter School Pioneer for your trailblazing work to help spread the charter school movement across the country with the enactment of the Federal Charter School Program.

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