The Potluck

Two Minnesota charter schools vote to unionize

By: - June 11, 2021 8:57 am

Photo by Amanda Mills, courtesy CDC.

Two Twin Cities charter schools have voted to unionize this month, according to Education Minnesota, the state teachers union.

Hiawatha Academies, a Minneapolis charter school network, and Great River School in St. Paul will now start negotiating their first contracts, which could take months. With the new additions, five of the state’s 186 charter schools are affiliated with Education Minnesota, according to the union.

About 70% of staff at both schools signed cards of petition in favor of unionizing, the union said.

The bargaining units will include more than 100 teachers and staff at Great River School and 205 at Hiawatha Academies.

Teachers unions nationwide often say they oppose charter schools because they operate with less transparency and accountability than traditional public schools — and because staff aren’t unionized.

Unionized charter schools “complicate the usual ‘us vs. them’ narrative” regarding charter schools and teachers unions, researchers with the University of Washington’s Center of Reinventing Public Education wrote in 2019.

The rate of charter school unionization changed little in the past decade, the report found. Just over 12% of charter schools were unionized in 2009, compared to 11.3% in 2019. The researchers interviewed teachers at unionized charter schools and found that many saw collective bargaining as a way to have more say in school decision making.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.