Two bills that would have deeply wounded the popular schools of choice are dead…for now.
Last week, two seemingly sure-shot bills were deep-sixed in the California legislature. AB 1506 would have placed a ceiling on the number of charter schools allowed in the state – the magic number being those in existence at the end of this year. A new school could open only if another had closed. Additionally, the more draconian SB 756 would have placed a moratorium on any new schools whatsoever until Jan. 1, 2022.
Given the power of the California Teachers Association, and the political composition of the state legislature, the bills’ demise was quite surprising. CTA president Eric Heins used the standard union mantra by insisting that the charter school industry in California has risen “without any accountability or transparency.” (Memo to Heins: Stop your hypocritical rant about accountability. California’s latest NAEP scores are pathetic. On the 2017 test, the state was near the bottom nationally, with 69 percent of 4th grade students not proficient in both math and reading. So maybe harping only on charter “accountability” is not a good idea.)
Also, Heins et al. never acknowledge a 2014 study from Stanford University, which found that low-income black students in California charter schools gained 36 more days of learning in reading and 43 more days in math a year than their district school counterparts. Stanford also released the results of a study in 2017 which revealed that the longer students attend schools in charter networks, the greater their gains. For example, “in math, students attending schools in charter networks gain, on average, about 34 more days of learning in their first year than similar students in traditional district schools. By their third year in that school, they gain 69 additional days of learning – roughly twice the growth.”
While not all studies show such a disparity between traditional district schools and charters, by and large, charters do a better job. This is why they are preferred by many parents, especially minorities. In fact, a recent Democrats for Education Reform poll showed that 58 percent of black Dems were in favor, while 32 were opposed. The numbers for Hispanics were 52 for and 30 against.
So what do the unions do now? In California and elsewhere, unionistas have long held a “Kill ‘Em or Unionize ‘Em” attitude toward charters. Because of their inability to mortally wound them in the Golden State, maybe their next push will be to organize them.
However, this is not an easy road. As Rick Hess points out in the Washington Examiner, while the number of unionized charter schools nationwide is up since 2010, from 604 to 781, the share of charter schools that are unionized have actually declined during the same time period, from 12 to 11 percent. One of the problems is that it is time-consuming and costly to organize stand-alone charters or even small charter networks. Another organizing issue is the freedom factor for teachers. Educators who prefer charters are typically independent types who want to escape a union’s collective bargaining constraints, where every second of a teacher’s day is regulated. As Hess points out, unionized charters operate like just like unionized traditional district schools.
So the question then becomes, “Just how good are unionized charters?” Well, actually not very good at all. A few years back Jay Greene wrote about a study conducted by Harvard economist Tom Kane which found that “…students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.” (Emphasis added.)
Therefore when charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional district schools in performance. Greene adds, “Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.”
Back in California, we are not yet out of the woods. While AB 1506 and SB 756 have been shelved, the authors plan to bring them back in the future. Also, two other damaging bills, AB 1505 and AB 1507, are very much alive. AB 1505 would knock out the appeals process. The way things are now, if a charter is turned down by a local school district, it can appeal to the county and then the state. AB 1507 would make it difficult for a charter that is having trouble finding a facility to locate in a neighboring district. These bills both passed in the State Assembly and now move on to the Senate, where the battle will soon continue.
Considering how bleak the situation was just a couple of weeks ago, the latest news is terrific for charter schools and the children who attend them. But the proverbial wolf is still lying in wait at the door. As such, continuing protests and eternal vigilance are required to keep the teachers unions and their toadies in Sacramento at bay.
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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.