CharterFolk Chat #9 – Ember Reichgott Junge and Gary Hart, Pioneering Legislators of the Charter School Movement Reflect on Our 30th Anniversary

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we have a special one for you, a CharterFolk Chat with two legends from our movement, former Minnesota State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge and former California State Senator Gary Hart, the legislators who passed the first two charter school laws in the United States.

I always hope CharterFolk will find time to view chats in their entirety, but given the approach of our 30th anniversary as a movement, and given the unique insights these pivotal leaders have to share, I am doubly hopeful you will all make time for this one.

Ember and Gary have been interviewed on several occasions before. The interview that Ember moderated with Gary, Eric Premack and Sue Burr for the National Charter School Institute’s Founder’s Library was a particularly strong one. I provide a link below.

Rather than cover the same ground that was so well examined in the Founder’s Library interview, we attempted to explore new territory. I provide some highlights below:

  • At the 4 minute mark, Ember and Gary talk about how improbable it was that their two bills passed, and how the passing of the politically unlikely has contributed to the extraordinary impact of Minnesota’s and California’s charter school laws.
  • At 14:30, given that the interview was filmed as the Derek Chauvin case was proceeding, with Ember participating from her home where she has a view of the building where the trial took place, I asked the former Senators to comment on the civil rights origins of the charter school movement. (For those of you wanting a link to the CharterFolk post that Ember references in her comments, I provide it here: Why We Give a Damn About Charter Schools.)
  • At 22 minutes, Ember and Gary share their latest thoughts about what has surprised them most about the charter school movement, taking into account some of the latest developments we have seen during the Covid crisis.
  • At 29 minutes, I share my belief that one of our greatest shortcomings over our first 30 years has been a lack of emphasis on charter school conversions, and I ask our guests what they would identify as some of our mistakes and/or lessons learned.
  • At the 40 minute mark, the Senators share their thoughts about how the movement can best navigate the advocacy and political challenges before it.
  • At 47:00, I ask Ember and Gary whether they might think it productive for charter schools to begin pushing the traditional public school system to become greatly more public in areas where charter schools already are.
  • Finally, at 54:45, the Senators share some final thoughts and requests they have for CharterFolk as the movement prepares to embark upon its fourth decade of work.

It was quite a thrill for me to be able to be part of this interview. It made me think of many new things I hadn’t considered before, ideas I’m sure I will be sharing with CharterFolk in the weeks and months ahead. I extend to both Ember and Gary a deep felt thank you for being willing to be part of this conversation and for the irreplaceable contribution you have both made to the national charter school movement.