The union assault on charter schools in California has intensified, but resistance is not futile. Parents, students, conscientious teachers, lawmakers and concerned citizens are stepping up. There are many ways to fight for charter schools, which represent one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal performance by California’s K-12 system of public education.
In an April 2019 report in the respected website CalMatters entitled “Charter-mageddon: Lawmakers advance a raft of union-backed charter school curbs,” the ongoing battle between charter school advocates and their foes is updated as follows: “While the two sides have battled for decades—typically to a draw—the political momentum has shifted in favor of organized labor this session.”
This is an understatement. On April 4th, three charter-killer bills cleared the State Assembly’s Education Committee, and all of them have a good chance of moving on to the Governor’s desk, where Gavin Newsom is considered far more likely to sign them than former Gov. Brown would have been. These bills, as reported in CalMatters, “would give local school districts the sole power to authorize charter schools [AB 1505], create state and local caps on the number of charters allowed to operate [AB 1506], and put strict limits on charter school locations [AB 1507].”
A March 2019 report, written by Larry Sand and published by the California Policy Center, entitled “Chartercide in California,” not only discusses how the teachers unions are attacking charters, but also relates how charter schools are delivering dramatically better educational results in some of the most disadvantaged communities in California. He writes:
“According to a 2017 report from the California Charter School Association, Oakland charters, home to 30 percent of the city’s students, performed on average in the 45th percentile on the state administered standardized tests, while Oakland traditional public schools (TPS) performed at the 25th percentile. In Los Angeles, where 26 percent of all students are charter-educated, a 2014 study showed that the city’s charter school students receive the equivalent of about 50 more days of learning in reading and 79 days of math than students in the city’s TPS.”
The war on charter schools has raged for over twenty years in California. The teachers unions have contended that because public school revenue is allocated based on attendance, charter schools take away badly needed funds. But these same unions typically complain that classrooms are overcrowded, which means charter school enrollments has nothing to do with the financial challenges facing traditional public schools.
Rather than face the true challenges – out of control pension and retirement healthcare costs, and out of control hiring of administrative and support personnel that never see the inside of a classroom – the powerful teachers unions are out to kill charter schools. For years, the unions fought a low intensity war against charters, based on the assumption that their relentless push to unionize the charter schools would allow conquest from within. But then the U.S. Supreme Court made the unionization push more difficult.
The urgency of the union campaign to kill charter schools has been elevated by the recent Janus vs AFSCME decision, which permits individual teachers to opt out of paying union dues, or even union “agency fees.” And it’s not going to end there. Additional cases are working their way through the courts, such as Uradnik vs IFO, which would take away a public sector union’s right to exclusive representation, or Few vs UTLA, which would nullify many steps the unions have taken to thwart the Janus ruling.
Resistance is NOT futile – pressure state legislators
Despite the incredible power of the teachers unions – the three major ones combined, CTA, CFT, and CSEA, collected over a half-billion in revenue last year– it is not a sure thing that these bills will pass into law. And despite the mega-majority of Democrats – who now occupy more than 75 percent of the seats in both chambers of California’s state legislature – these bills can be stopped. Because supporting charter schools is a bipartisan issue. Democratic politicians fear losing union money, but they also want to do the right thing. Allowing charter schools to continue to offer educational alternatives, especially considering the dismal performance of California’s public schools, is the right thing to do.
An example of what can be done to help prevent passage of charter-killer legislation is a resolution opposing anti-charter legislation, available on the CPC’s “CLEO” website, where practical information on nonpartisan government reforms are compiled to serve as a resource for local elected officials in California. This model resolution, provided by the California Charter Schools Association, has been adopted by the Orange County Board of Education, the Sacramento County Board of Education, and the Riverside County Board of Education. It addresses AB 1505, which would deny the ability of charter school applicants rejected by school district boards to appeal to the county or state boards of education.
Resistance is NOT futile – join the parents union
Another way to demand changes is to join the growing “Parent Union,” an organization of “parents uniting with community members to ensure that all students receive an outstanding public education regardless of their zip code of residence. We strongly believe that it is every parents’ right to choose the best quality public education for their child whether it’s District Schools, Public Charter Schools, Home School, Magnet Schools, Independent Studies or Online Learning. We believe that there is power in the Collective voice of Parents.”
With a motto “When Parents Unite, Students Win!” the parents union has already attracted over 1,000 members in Orange County. As this powerful movement spreads across California – and it will, because traditional public schools are failing, and everyone knows it – state and local legislators will come to view meaningful education reform as necessary to their political survival. That day cannot come soon enough.
Edward Ring is a co-founder of the California Policy Center and served as its first president.
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