Charter Schools

The first charter schools in the nation opened in Minnesota in 1992. In Minnesota, charter schools are tuition-free and are governed by Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 124E. Charter schools offer a unique educational program for students and families seeking an alternative to traditional public schools. They must welcome and be open to all students. Charter schools are operated and governed by licensed teachers, parents and community members. Currently, there are 168 charter schools in operation in Minnesota, serving approximately 63,000 pre-K through grade 12 students. There are also 39 charter schools with officially recognized early learning programs. 

Before a Minnesota charter school may be formed, a charter school developer must identify a state-approved authorizer whose mission aligns with the proposed school’s mission. There are currently 13 approved authorizers in Minnesota. An authorizer can be a school board or intermediate school district school board, other education districts, charitable organizations, institutions of higher education, a nonprofit corporation subject to Chapter 317A, or a single-purpose authorizer.

Three critical aspects of an authorizer’s oversight work are:
  • Establishing the initial performance contract with a charter school;
  • Determining if a charter school is ready to open; and
  • Deciding whether or not to renew a charter school contract. 
The charter contract is the cornerstone of the charter school model. The contract articulates and safeguards the rights and responsibilities of the authorizer and the school, and outlines the academic, operational and financial performance outcomes the school must meet for contract renewal. A contract between a charter school and authorizer can be up to five operational years. In addition to the performance outcomes of the charter contract with the authorizer, students attending charter schools are subjected to take state and national tests to assure academic accountability.

The Minnesota Authorizer Performance Evaluation System (MAPES) was implemented in 2014 to evaluate authorizer performance on their oversight of charter schools. Find information regarding MAPES and authorizer ratings and reports under the Authorizer Performance tab.

Commissioner-approved Charter School Authorizers
View a complete list of commissioner-approved charter school authorizers, including contact information and the schools they authorize, at MDE-ORG.

Charter School Directory
Find a complete list of charter schools in Minnesota, including contact information, in the MDE-ORG database.