Reactionary Teachers Union Parties like It’s 1909

Self-serving Washington Education Association dusts off a 100 year old law to shut down charter schools.

As I have frequently written, the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charter schools. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they want to kill them off; on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays they want to unionize them. Earlier this month, with the help of a compliant court, the National Education Association affiliate in Washington managed to trash the state’s fledgling charter school movement – a tiny movement, barely sticking its toes in the water with all of one school having opened in Seattle last year, with eight more opening this fall.

But citing an arcane law passed in 1909, the Washington Supreme Court deemed the charter schools unconstitutional. As reported in The Seattle Times, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen ruled that “charter schools aren’t ‘common schools’ because they’re governed by appointed rather than elected boards. Therefore, money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools.” Justice Mary E. Fairhurst agreed with the majority that charter schools aren’t common schools, but argued in a partial dissenting opinion that the state “can constitutionally support charter schools through the general fund.”

The Washington Education Association, which was joined by the League of Women Voters of Washington and others in bringing the suit, was gleeful. “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding,” said Kim Mead, WEA president.

This is maddening.

The thrust behind the decision is that charter schools are not accountable to local voters the way traditional public schools are. Ironically the statement is true, but for the reverse reason. Charters are in fact far more accountable than traditional public schools. As the Wall Street Journal points out,

Charters must submit detailed applications to a state commission explaining, among other things, their curriculum, standards and plans for special-needs students. They must also submit to a public forum—i.e., a union beating. They provide annual performance reports, and the State Board of Education can sanction charters that fail to achieve their objectives and close those in the bottom quartile of public schools. Only the lowest 5% of traditional schools must propose corrective plans.

American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess wrote a scathing denouncement of the decision in National Review, claiming among other things that, “…the notion that Washington State’s school districts are sacrosanct because they allow the public to carefully select teachers and discharge incompetent ones reads like a twisted joke. Ultimately, the court’s rationale serves as an open-ended, extra-constitutional rejection of all challenges to the education monopoly.” Using words like “gutless” and “lunacy” to describe the decision, Hess ended his broadside with, “We’ll see if Washington State’s myopic mandarins really have the nerve to ask law enforcement to shut down these ‘speakeasy’ schools in order to stop the state’s charter-school students from illegally pursuing a public education.”

An interesting facet to the mess is that the teachers unions gave the maximum allowed by law ($1,800 in 2012 and $1,900 in 2014) in campaign contributions to seven of the nine judges on the Washington Supreme Court in their most recent election to the Court. Call me crazy, but this reeks of a conflict of interest. While a quid pro quo can’t be established, it’s hard not to be a bit cynical. Danny Westneat writes in The Seattle Times about a simple cure for this. “The state of Utah has a much stricter rule — that justices have to sit out a case if someone involved in it gave their campaign $50 or more. If we had that rule, the Temple of Justice would have been almost emptied for the charter-schools case.”

What’s next for the Washington charters? As Robin Lake writes in an aptly named piece, “A court decision only the Kremlin could love,”

As many have forcefully opined, this decision should be reconsidered by the court (a motion to reconsider is likely). Barring that, the legislature could pass a new charter that doesn’t use the term “common schools,” or pass a constitutional amendment. If lawmakers have any decency, this will happen quickly. That’s the only way to make sure that students and their families don’t have to endure any more needless chaos.

Coincidentally, while the state teachers union is busy shutting down charters, its Seattle local started off the new school year by calling a strike, thus closing the city’s public schools. The big disagreement in this case is money. While the district is offering a 10 percent raise over two years, the union is demanding a 16.8 percent increase over the same time period.

As The Daily Caller’s Eric Owens reports, Seattle teachers currently have a median annual salary of $60,412. And of course that amount is for only 180 days of work and doesn’t include a panoply of perks including medical, dental, vision and life insurance, not to mention generous pension benefits. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the annual per-capita income in Seattle is $43,237 – for 48-50 weeks of work per year, and those workers typically have a much less robust benefits package.

Weighing in on the Seattle strike, National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García gushed that she is proud that the NEA local’s teachers walked out, explaining “…educators are standing up for the schools students deserve.”

How a teacher union boss could make such a loopy statement with a straight face is beyond comprehension. Union leaders are busy closing charter schools in Washington by dredging up a vague, poorly written 100 year-old law and shutting down every public school in Seattle by striking, but they are of course doing it for the children. Gag.

 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 and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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