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The Unions’ “Accountability” Libel Against Charter Schools

The teacher union war on charter schools ramps up with empty billionaire and accountability accusations.

Charter schools are like pesky chewing gum that the teachers unions just can’t quite get off their shoes. They have been persistent in trying to just get rid of the alternative public schools – except for the few they have managed to organize. The problem they’re having is that charters are very popular with parents and kids, especially with those who reside in the inner cities which are home to the worst traditional public schools. The latest pathetic attempt by union command-central to destroy charters emanates from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which, as investigative reporter Eric Owens points out, is a reliably pro-union advocacy organization based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Perhaps “reliably pro-union” is an understatement. The American Federation of Teachers gave CMD $30,000 for “member related services” in fiscal year 2015. Also, one of the biggest funders of CMD is Democracy Alliance, which boasts AFT president Randi Weingarten as a member and National Education Association executive director John Stocks as its president. The dark money group also includes old leftwing billionaire George Soros and new leftwing billionaire Tom Steyer.

In a nutshell, the report asserts that the American public “does not have ready access to key information about how their federal and state taxes are being spent to fuel the charter school industry. Peppered with terms like “lack of accountability” and “flavoring flexibility over rules,” the summary is an indicator of how off-target the sloppy and factually-challenged report really is. As reported by LaborPains.org, for example, it attacks charter-friendly Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, offering reporters a misleading story about secret meetings and plots.

Emails obtained by CMD from Gov. Ducey’s office reveal that he (and his predecessor) helped propel a secret ‘School Finance Reform Team’ … The stated goal was for everyone on the school reform team to use their ‘different contacts to help get …legislation,’ which would effectively divert more money from public schools to charter school coffers passed.

But the Arizona Republic then printed the rest of the story. After reviewing the “secret” emails themselves, they found “nothing of the kind.” CMD was forced to issue a correction admitting that their reported premise was wrong. In the Republic’s words, CMD “used a handful of innocent emails to spin a conspiracy that just wasn’t real.

Of course there is nothing new about the unions and affiliated groups savaging charters with lies, using “unaccountable” and “billionaires” as their essential buzzwords. In June, NEA’s Brian Washington wrote, “…pro-charter forces are putting more money behind efforts to elect and lobby politicians who will implement policies resulting in unaccountable charter schools that threaten the futures of our students.”

The billionaire bash-of-the-week (seasoned with a dab of “accountability”), comes from Capital and Main, a union-friendly progressive website. There, Donald Cohen, founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, writes “Billionaires Can’t Teach Our Kids” which slams Eli Broad and a few other philanthropists for initiating a plan that would double the number of charter schools in Los Angeles. He claims, “Broad and his billionaire friends have decided that instead of investing in our public schools, they’ll just create new ones with less accountability and fewer standards ….” But a little digging reveals that In the Public Interest, which partnered with the American Federation of Teachers last year to push for more charter accountability, is a project of The Partnership for Working Families. An ACORN-like group, PWF hates anything capitalist and is a card-carrying member of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, whose raison d’être is to vilify “one percenters.” Not surprisingly, several of PWF donors are rich philanthropists, including the aforementioned billionaire George Soros and other wealthy globalist/socialists.

Their billionaires don’t count, of course.

The very day CMD came out with its bogus report, reform-minded Ed Trust-West released “More Than Half of the Top California Schools for Low-Income Students Are Charter Schools.” This report highlights the top 10 highest performing schools for low-income 3rd, 8th and 11th grade students in California and finds in 3rd and 11th grade, “five of the top ten are charter schools. In 8th grade, seven of the top ten are charters.” (Education Trust-West analyzed data from schools where “at least 60 percent of the students qualify as low-income in order to determine the top 10 performers by subject matter and grade,” reported Kimberly Beltran.)

Additionally, a recent Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report shows that across 41 regions, “urban charter schools on average achieve significantly greater student success in both math and reading, which amounts to 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading.” The CREDO report is certainly in line with the results of the California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) test in Los Angeles, where Mr. Broad and his “billionaire friends” are seeking to make improvements. The results, released in September, show that only one-third of LA students in traditional public schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math but that the city’s charter school students did much better.

LAUSD - performance on SB test 2015(Courtesy of California Charter School Association via LA School Report)

Are charter schools perfect? Hardly. Not even all are wonderful. But as Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, notes in a rejoinder to the CMD report, when charters don’t do the job, they can and should be shuttered. “The public charter school bargain (has) more flexibility to innovate in exchange for accountability for higher student achievement. When public charter schools fail to meet their goals – whether for academic, financial or operational reasons – they should be closed, even if we have invested federal dollars in them. If we don’t close them, we undermine the whole concept of public charter schooling.” While there are a few exceptions, that’s the way charters schools operate.

The teachers unions and their fellow travelers would be best served if they’d stop their billionaire bashing and their tiresome accountability accusations. In fact, if traditional public schools were held to the same level of accountability as charter schools, the world will be a much better place. Why am I not holding my breath?

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.

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.

When Teachers Unions Attack

Coca Cola, Teach For America, Walmart and banks are the latest targets of Big Labor.

Attempting to get over the millions of dollars they spent backing losers in the November election, America’s teachers unions are on a mission to find new bogeymen. First victim: Coca Cola. Yup, the American Federation of Teachers has adopted a resolution which claims that “three general secretaries of the union representing Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala City and five workers were killed, and four more workers were kidnapped.” (To read the rest of the pathetic guilt-by-association allegations, go here.) But the real reason the union is pillorying our national soft drink is because “Coca-Cola circumvents its own code of conduct by hiring workers through subcontracting rather than hiring permanent employees.”

There it is. AFT’s real gripe is that Coke is hiring non-union workers. (Rumors that the union went after Coke because it thought that the company was owned by those two evil brothers from Kansas are unfounded.)

As The Daily Caller’s Eric Owens points out,” The anti-Coke gambit is the latest in a bizarro month even by the standards of America’s teachers unions.”

While AFT is busy defaming Coke, the National Education Association has been focusing on student debt, and recently kicked off a “Degrees Not Debt Week of Action.” Of course, what the union doesn’t mention is that in order to get potential teachers and other college grads off the hook, the beleaguered taxpayers would have to assume the debt. The union also neglects to acknowledge that organized labor has played an important role in the escalating costs of getting a college degree. Referring to the University of California, Jon Coupal points out that the driving force behind tuition hikes is the growing unfunded liability of pension funds and “other items of questionable compensation for unionized faculty.” Coupal quotes Wall Street Journals Allysia Finley,

UCs this year needed to spend an additional $73 million on pensions, $30 million on faculty bonuses, $24 million on health benefits and $16 million on collectively bargained pay increases. The regents project that they will require $250 million more next year to finance increased compensation and benefit costs.

Ms. Napolitano [President of the University of California] says that the UCs have cut their budgets to the bone, yet her own office includes nearly 2,000 employees—a quarter of whom make six-figure salaries. An associate vice president of federal government relations earns $273,375 a year, plus $55,857 in retirement and health benefits, according to the state controller’s office.  Thirty professors at UC Santa Cruz rake in more than $200,000 in pay, and most faculty can retire at 60 and receive a pension equal to 75% of their final salary. More than 2,100 retirees in the university retirement system collected six-figure pensions in 2011.

At the same time the teachers unions are trying to shaft the taxpayer, they pretend to really, really care about the little guy. In a press release, AFT accuses Wall Street of “costing schools, municipalities billions.” The union’s hellfire-and-brimstone document informs us that banks took advantage of poor lil’ ol’ educators by charging interest on money they never should have had to borrow in the first place. (Okay, I added that last part.) Never one to mince words, Chicago Teacher Union president (and member in good standing of the International Socialist Organization) Jesse Sharkey proclaimed, “The banks owe us a rebate of hundreds of millions of dollars, which we should invest in 50 sustainable community schools with robust wraparound services, restorative justice programs, low class sizes and sufficient staffing levels.”

Despite Mr. Sharkey’s attempts to wage class warfare, there is absolutely no evidence that the banks are guilty of anything but doing legal business. But why let the truth get in the way of a good Marxist narrative?

And then there is the AFT’s embrace of “United Students Against Sweatshops.” (Yes, Virginia, there really is such a loopy organization, and its biggest funder is AFT. USAS deserves a post of its own which I will get to in the near future.)  With chapters all over the country, the apparent raison d’être of the USAS Harvard franchise is to drive Teach For America into the sea. Why? Because TFA, which places idealistic young teachers in tough-to-staff schools, takes funding from the Walton Foundation, which of course is the philanthropic arm of Walmart, which, according to USAS, is trying to privatize public education, which it shouldn’t do because it will cost the teachers unions countless members, which will destroy their bottom line… or something like that.

The common thread running through the latest teachers union gambits is a strong animosity toward the American way of doing business, especially when it interferes with their hegemony. They are anti-capitalist – never mind that capitalism has been the driving force in cutting world poverty in half over the last 20 years – and pro-socialism, which strives for equality, even though people who live under such a system are equally miserable. But the unions, which took a real thumping on Election Day, may be overplaying their hand. It seems that the citizenry has figured out that the teachers unions provide no good solutions. Indeed, they’re an integral part of many of the educational and fiscal problems we face today.

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.