Charter Chicanery

Charter Chicanery

Teacher union sponsored bill is a serious threat to California’s charter schools.

It’s hardly a secret that teachers unions don’t like charter schools. These independent, publicly funded schools are typically not unionized (just 15 percent are in California), and therefore can avoid many of the burdensome rules and regulations which are chiseled into the state education code and burdensome, child-unfriendly union contracts.

There are currently 1,130 charter schools in California that teach 500,000 students, while another 50,000 kids sit on wait lists. Most studies show that these locally controlled schools do a better job than traditional public schools, especially with low-income students, English Learners, African-Americans and Latinos. There’s also mounting evidence that charter schools decrease dropout rates, increase college attendance rates and improve the quality of colleges that their graduates attend.

The teachers unions’ opposition to charters has led to attempts to snuff them out at worst, or at least to limit their growth. In 2011, the California Teachers Association’s AB 1172 would have allowed a chartering authority to deny a petition if it submits a written factual finding that the charter school would have a negative fiscal impact on the school district – but conveniently the bill lacked parameters or definition of that “impact.” The same year, the California Federation of Teachers’ AB 401 would have imposed an arbitrary cap of 1,450 charter schools in California through January 1, 2017. Thankfully, neither bill became law.

And now we have AB 1531, yet another bill cooked up by CTA which, at its core, would “require that the initial chartering authority appoint a majority of the members of the board of directors” of a charter school. This is nothing but a transparent attempt by the folks over at CTA command central to recover lost power by giving local school boards, which typically are the “initial chartering authority” – and frequently comprised of union-backed members who are hostile to charters – power over those schools. Lance Izumi, Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, adds:

If charter-school organizers know that local school boards have the power to pass final judgment on who sits on their governing boards, they will be less likely to nominate people who possess talent, vision and commitment, but who are not likely to be confirmed by the local school board. Only people politically palatable to the school board will likely be nominated. There will be a chilling effect on the variety of people put forward to serve on charter-school governing boards, with the result that governing boards would end up becoming extensions of the school board.

In other words, charter schools would not be charter schools as we have known them. (You can’t remove the cherries from a cherry pie and still call it a cherry pie.)

CTA justifies the bill by claiming that it will protect teachers.

… CTA-sponsored AB 1531 by Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) would ensure that employees of public charter schools are covered by the state’s public pension systems and by collective bargaining law. While the first provision would help protect their retirements, the second would ensure that they are protected by laws that give voice to educators. These protections are vital to helping public schools – charter or regular – attract and keep the highly qualified educators our students need.  

While the pension angle may sound reasonable, it is ultimately a red herring being played up by the union to make its power play seem altruistic. The IRS and Department of Labor have allowed charter school teachers and other school employees to participate in government pension plans since 1995. But in an entry beginning on page 69,180 of the November 8, 2011 Federal Register, the IRS issued advanced notice of proposed new regulations which include a redefinition of what is and is not a government entity. These things go through a public comment process and refinement before adoption, and can take many years to finalize. And absolutely no one knows how all this might affect charter schools.

This disastrous bill is best summed up by William Melton, president of the Albert Einstein Charter Academies, which is comprised of two charter schools in San Diego. He says that if AB 1531 becomes law, it would

… eliminate the autonomy of AEA’s Board of Trustees and would undo 20 years of education progress and choice for California’s parents and students. Essentially it would mean that AEA’s schools would convert to being district schools. AB 1531 is an attempt to take our communities back to 1991 when there were no charter schools in California and parent choice did not exist. (Emphasis added.)

Undoing 20 years of education progress and choice for California’s parents and students is just what CTA is attempting to do. Introduced in January, AB 1531 was recently approved by a narrow 4-3 vote in the Assembly Education Committee and now must pass muster in Appropriations later this month. Here’s hoping it dies there.

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.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!