In 1991, Minnesota became the first state to adopt charter school legislation. When the state's first charter school, located in St. Paul, opened its doors in 1992, it caused a ripple effect across the nation. By mid-1999, over 1,200 charter schools in 37 states now serve over 300,000 school children. In 1998-99 alone, 473 new charter schools opened and seven new states passed some version of charter school legislation. Although charter schools are also government schools, they have introduced much-needed competitive pressure into a government school system that previously lacked incentives to treat children as customers to be served rather than as a captive audience.
Michigan passed its charter school law in 1993,95 whereupon the school employee labor unions filed suit, claiming that charter schools should not receive public funds because they were not government schools. In 1994, the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest school employee labor union, took its opposition a step further when it attempted to stop a state university from sponsoring the creation of charter schools by threatening to blacklist the university's student teachers.96
Despite threats and lawsuits by the labor unions, eight charter schools serving 528 students opened in Michigan in 1994.97 A July 1997 State Supreme Court decision ruled that the charter school law was constitutional, putting to rest the legal battle that began in 1993.98
As of January 1, 1999, there were 138 charter schools in operation serving over 30,000 students in Michigan, more than 50 percent of whom are minorities. Many are also eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. A 1997 poll of Grand Rapids-area parents revealed that a majority liked charter schools because of the dedicated staff, parental involvement, and academic focus. The high levels of satisfaction among charter school parents suggest that demand for public schools-of-choice will probably continue to increase.99