Cashing in on Hypocrisy

Latest teacher union stunt to discredit charter schools rings hollow.

As I have written before – as recently as last Tuesday – the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charter schools. Depending on the tides, they either want to kill charters off or unionize them. Last week – in kill mode – Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers and a group called In the Public Interest launched a website called Cashing in on Kids.

The website consists of several cases of alleged charter improprieties – fiscal hanky-panky at one, mismanagement at another, etc. Whether the stories are true or not isn’t the point.

No one has ever said that these alternatives to traditional public schools are perfect or should operate with impunity. In fact, accountability is the hallmark of charter schools which get shut down if they don’t do their job. It’s audacious for AFT to bloviate about accountability and transparency in the charter sector when it is the unions that fight (spending untold millions in the process) to maintain the failing educational status quo. In a spot-on response to the attack, Center for Education Reform president Kara Kerwin wrote,

… Unlike all other public schools, charters must be proactive in their efforts to stay open. They must set and meet rigorous academic goals, and actually meet or exceed their state’s proficiency standards. Unlike the conventional public schools that intentionally remain under the radar, charter schools operate under intense scrutiny from teachers unions, the media, and lawmakers. In states with strong charter school laws that allow for objective oversight, it is clear that performance-based accountability is working.

In a rhetorical gymnastics routine we’ve come to expect from teacher unions, this latest campaign against education reform irresponsibly suggests that profit and student success are mutually exclusive, ignoring the fact that K-12 education in the U.S. is a $607 billion enterprise annually.

… By law, for-profit companies may only contract with the non-profit governing board of a charter school. These are public schools that are held to the same state standards, open meeting laws, and transparency. Open-enrollment policies must apply, and students that attend charter schools, regardless of the tax status of the organization that manages it, do so by choice.

Education management companies bring investment and capital to the communities they serve, creating jobs, innovation, and cost-saving strategies. Most assume great financial risk on behalf of their non-profit clients to build infrastructure and facilities in communities that in any other industry would most likely not be considered ideal or open to business. In fact, like most charter schools, even those in public-private partnerships, receive on average 30% less per pupil than their traditional school peers whose management has no accountability or incentive to improve student outcomes. (Emphasis added.)

This latest attempt by the AFT to discredit charter schools is nothing more than an effort to stifle the calls for greater accountability in our conventional public schools that the American public demands.

And it’s even worse than Kerwin made it out to be. In a U.S. News & World Report article about the website, Weingarten is quoted:

This is a simple exercise of following the money. … How many times do people simply get up on a pedestal and say we care about kids, and then you realize that they care about profits, they care about tax deductions, they care about privatizing the public system?

This gets right to the heart of the matter: the latest attack on charters is really an anti-capitalist screed more than anything else. Its goal is to score political points and paint charters as evil money-grubbing outfits. In the Public Interest – a perfect partner for AFT – is a project of The Partnership for Working Families (PWF), which is an ACORN-like group that hates anything capitalist and is a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to bash “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are rich “philanthropists,” including George Soros and other globalist/socialists.

Perhaps Weingarten, who is on a crusade to keep private entities from abusing public funds, should follow her own money. Her union – a private association – takes in $175,000,000 a year in union dues, which are purloined from teachers’ salaries in most states. And every penny of those salaries is paid by public tax money that originates with private citizens – the taxpayers.

Just what does the union do with all this public/private money? RiShawn Biddle reports,

For 2012-2013, the AFT spent $32 million on political lobbying activities and contributions …; this, by the way, doesn’t include politically-driven spending that can often find its way under so-called “representational activities”. This is a 19 percent increase over spending by the union during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

This means that the union is pouring public/private money into causes that advance its main agenda which is essentially to keep public/private money flowing into its coffers. The union also pays its bosses quite nicely. According to the latest AFT tax filing, Weingarten pulls in $549,622 in total compensation. (Not too shabby for someone who rails against one percenters.) Her tax deduction crack is especially laughable because Weingarten, in her last year as United Federation of Teachers president, received a $194,000 payout for unused sick days, which pushed her total compensation for the year to over $600,000. And of course, it’s just a coincidence that she abandoned New York City that year for East Hampton, a very wealthy community on Long Island’s south shore, thus avoiding paying $30,000 in taxes.

Hopefully the “Cashing in on Kids” website will get little traction. I mean, really – just who exactly is cashing in on kids … and their parents … and the taxpayers?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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