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Bye-bye Abood?

SCOTUS appears to be ready to dump mandatory public employee union dues payments.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association lawsuit. The case centers around whether or not teachers and other public employees should be forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment in states that don’t have right-to-work (RTW) laws. Reviewing the comments and questions from the Justices, a favorable outcome is looking very good for the plaintiffs.

The lawyers and court-watchers have been anticipating a 5-4 decision, with Antonin Scalia being the swing vote. The typically conservative justice had in the past come down on the side of forced agency fees or “fair share,” which is a full dues payment minus the money the union spends on politics should a teacher object. The unions claim they are compelled to represent every teacher, and thus, every teacher should have to pay something for their services. That set up has been law since SCOTUS enshrined it in the Abood decision in 1977 in an attempt to ensure “labor peace.”

But Scalia seems to have had a change of heart. Noting the differences between private and public unions, he said, “But the problem is that it is not the same as a private employer, that what is bargained for is, in all cases, a matter of public interest. And that changes…the situation in a way that that may require a change of the rule. It’s one thing to provide it for private employers. It’s another thing to provide it for the government, where every matter bargained for is a matter of public interest.” (P. 76)

Even more damning, Scalia ended up essentially agreeing with the main point of the plaintiffs’ argument. “The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition. Should the government pay higher wages or lesser wages? Should it promote teachers on the basis of seniority or on the basis of all of those questions are necessarily political questions.” (P.45)

Anthony Kennedy, traditionally the Court’s swing voter, showed little sympathy for the union position. He dismissed the classic union rallying point that refers to those RTW state employees who “benefit” from union activities but don’t pay money to them as “free riders.” Kennedy rejected that argument, referring to them instead as “compelled riders.”

And you ­­ the term is free rider. The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree.

Many teachers think that they are devoted to the future of America, to the future of our young people, and that the union is equally devoted to that but that the union is absolutely wrong in some of its positions. And agency fees require, as I understand it — correct me if I’m wrong — agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree with those positions must nevertheless subsidize the union on those very points. (P.43)

Kennedy also brought up the frequently fuzzy line between political spending and so called chargeable (non-political) fees, asking the lawyer for the state of California. “Do union — do unions have public relations programs of or newspaper articles, media programs to talk about things like merit pay, protecting underperforming teachers and so forth? Do the unions actually make those arguments, and aren’t those chargeable expenses? (P.44)

The union lawyers kept stressing that forced dues were essential to their survival, but Scalia disagreed, pointing out, “Why do you think that the union would not survive without these – these – fees charged to nonmembers of the union? Federal employee unions do – do not charge agency fees to nonmembers and they seem to survive; indeed they prosper….” (P.50)

The union lawyers and four Justices sympathetic to their cause didn’t have much of a defense. They kept making the same tired old points and added the stare decisis argument, the doctrine of precedent, which came up several times. Lawyers cite it when an issue has been previously brought to the court and a ruling already made. Generally, courts will adhere to the previous judgment, though this is not always the case.

There have been several landmark cases where prior rulings have been completely disregarded, most notably in Plessy v Ferguson (1896). The Court ruled the “constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’” But in 1954, stare decisis was set aside when the court overturned Plessy. In Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka, the Court reversed itself, saying that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Referring to Friedrichs, George Leef writes in Forbes, “Where First Amendment rights are at issue…stare decisis and the convenience of teachers’ unions seem very small considerations.”

The media weigh in

Reading countless reports and articles on the trial, I could not find one that thought it went the union’s way. Typical is a piece from Politico titled. “SCOTUS support for anti-union plaintiffs,” which begins, “The Supreme Court appeared ready Monday to bar public-sector unions from collecting ‘fair-share’ fees from non-members, a move that could deal a political blow to Democrats by reducing union membership drastically and draining union coffers.”

The only glimmer of hope came from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten who wrote, “As I listened (and admittedly, I’m not impartial!), I felt they failed to present a compelling argument for why the court should overturn 40 years of precedent — precedent that has led to labor peace in the public sector, better services for communities, easier administration for state and local governments, and, of course, fair pay and benefits for working families.”

But as she said, she is not impartial. In fact, anything but.

The usual pro-union suspects weighed in and essentially agreed that the plaintiffs would probably emerge victorious, but their reporting was leaden with a heavy dose of anger and angst. Perhaps the most hysterical was an article on Huffington Post titled, “This is Bad! Attack on Teacher Unions is an Assault on Students, Workers and Democracy.” His slant was obvious; in a brief article, he used the word “rightwing” seven times and just to change things up, he threw in “right-wing” a couple of times.

What happens next?

The justices may very well have already voted or will do so very soon, but it’ll likely be June before their decision is announced. Between now and then a lot can happen. The Justices’ minds can be changed by other justices and can be affected by public opinion and (indirect) union pressure. Hence the PR war will go on.

If the unions lose, how bad will it be for them?

Probably not nearly as bad as they are making it out to be. First, they can get rid of the free rider problem by becoming a members-only organization. (Some state laws may have to be tweaked, but that shouldn’t be an onerous task.) Then, if a teacher likes their union they can pay for services rendered. If they want no part of the union, they won’t join. There are other organizations like the Association of American Educators and Christian Educators Association International that provide many of the benefits and protections offered by the union.

Also, by becoming a members-only entity, the unions will enlist only true believers. But they will, however, have to be more responsive to the needs and wishes of their members since teachers as well as other public employees will no longer be forced to pay them.

Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, writes that children could be winners should the plaintiffs prevail, “…teachers may gain greater leverage in determining the policies that union leaders pursue. If that leads to policies that reward great teaching and put more of the best teachers in the classrooms that need them most, students will win.”

And there are union stalwarts who aren’t crying in their beer. Trade union activist Shamus Cooke asserts that unions need to step up their organizing game if they are to remain powerful. Samantha Winslow makes pretty much the same point in “Organizing Is the Key to Surviving Friedrichs.”

If Friedrichs is successful, who will be the big loser?

Democrats and the left.

There is no doubt that union warchests will take a hit if all teachers aren’t forced to fill them. While no one knows how many teachers will refuse membership, I think a conservative guess would be that one-third will choose to avoid ties to the union. If so, the California Teachers Association’s $180 million a year gravy train would be sliced down to $120 million. As you can see here (H/T Colin Sharkey), CTA gives 96.7 percent of that gravy to Democrats. And what doesn’t go specifically to Democrats goes to leftist causes. On a national level, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers’ spending just about all goes in a leftward direction.

Final word

The Abood decision, which claimed it would ensure “labor peace,” did so at the cost of freedom of association for millions of teachers across America over a 39-year period. “Labor peace” has also come at great expense to parents, children and taxpayers who have suffered as the unions coffers were used in part to kill education reform, keep kids in failing schools and raise taxes. Hopefully, the judges will soon rid our lives of Abood and if they do, trading bad policy for “labor peace” will become a sad relic of another time.

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.

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.

Charter Chumps

The competition-phobic teachers unions are still trying to decimate charter schools.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, the teachers unions vacillate when it comes to charter schools. On odd days they try to organize them and on even ones they go all out to eviscerate them. But the organizing efforts haven’t gone too well. The Center for Education Reform reports that, nationwide, the percentage of unionized charter schools has dropped from 12 in 2009 to a paltry 7 in 2012. In California, there is a 15 percent unionization rate, but that number, from the 2009-2010 school year, is long overdue for an update.

So if you can’t join ‘em, you try to undermine ‘em. To that end, during National School Choice Week in January, the National Education Association claimed that charter schools are unaccountable and warned the public to be wary of them. Then last week, NEA posted “Federal funding of charter schools needs more oversight, accountability” on its website.

This is pure union obstructionism and especially laughable coming from an organization whose mantra is, “Let’s spend bushels more on public education … but don’t hold any unionized teachers accountable.” In fact, there is plenty of oversight and accountability for charters. As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters “are academically accountable on two counts. They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, charter schools – schools of choice – have to please their customers: children and their parents. On that count, charters are doing quite well. Just about every study ever done on them shows that they outperform traditional schools, and Black and Hispanic kids benefit the most. Nationally, there are 6,440 schools serving 2,513,634 students, but the bad news is that there are over a million more kids on wait lists. And the situation is especially bad in areas that need charters the most: our big cities, which serve primarily poor and minority families. A new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools points out that New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami and Washington, D.C. fail to meet parental demand.

And then there is California.

The Golden State is the national leader in charters with 1,184, serving 547,800 students. But not surprisingly it also leads the country in kids who want to get in but can’t, and there are 158,000 of them. Of course the teachers unions are saying and doing what they can to deny parents – again mostly minorities and poor – the right to escape their unionized public schools. United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl recently stated that “a lot of charters don’t allow access for special-education students or English learners.” This of course is bilge; charter schools must serve all students. Lest his sentiments were not clear, he added, “The ascendant forces in California’s charter movement, I don’t see a lot of value in them.”

California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel recently opined. “There is a role for charter schools in California’s education system, and that role should be performed to the same high standards of integrity, transparency and openness required of traditional public schools.”

My goodness, no! I want charters to perform at way higher standards than traditional public schools … and thankfully most do.

Sadly CTA, now in eviscerate mode, is sponsoring four bills making the rounds in the California legislature. The union’s professed aim is regulation, but it appears to be a lot more like strangulation. The bills, which you can read about here, are nothing more than ways to limit charter growth, harass them and take away any needed independence they now have. For example, Tony Mendoza’s SB 329 would allow a charter petition to be denied for “anticipated financial impact.” This is simply a way to deny a charter for any reason and use money as an excuse. (This bill is similar Mendoza’s AB 1172 which died in committee in 2012.) AB 787 would require that all charters be run as non-profits. The bill’s author, Roger Hernández, said it would also “establish charter schools as governmental entities and their employees as public employees, giving them an increased ability to unionize.” Pure nonsense. Charters are fully capable of organizing now and only 10 in the state (less than one percent) are currently for-profit schools.

What the unions will never admit is that charter schools are effective because they are independent and not bound by the union contact, and when they are unionized, they are no different from traditional public schools. Jay Greene, in The Wall Street Journal, cited a study conducted by Harvard economist Tom Kane which found that, comparing apples to apples,

… 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.)

The war between teacher union leaders who insist on a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter education system run by them, and parents who want to get their kids out of failing schools and into charters rages on. In the meantime, there are thousands of kids in California whose futures are in jeopardy as the teachers unions direct their cronies in the legislature to do their bidding and decimate charter schools.

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.

Teachers Unions Target Charter Schools in California

The latest chapter in “kill or unionize” sees the unions in organize mode.

As I’ve written before, the teachers unions have a constantly shifting relationship with charter schools. When Mercury is in retrograde, the unions want to limit their growth or legislate the publicly-funded schools of choice out of existence. At other times, organizing them is the preferred strategy. With the coronation of new National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcìa, we see the unions take a conciliatory tone in an attempt to lure charter school teachers into the fold.

In fact, Garcia held a press conference at a unionized charter school in northern California in August. This fits right in with the California Teachers Association’s long-term strategic plan, which includes organizing charters as one of its foci. The only problem with NEA/CTA’s plan is that all their previous organizing attempts have fallen flatter than a flounder. As Mike Antonucci wrote earlier this month, “So go ahead and read about the push to unionize charters from last week, or from last April, or from May 2013, or from April 2013, or from April 2011, or from May 2006, or from November 2000.”

Why have the unions’ attempts to organize charter schools failed?

For starters, charters are either independent efforts or run by charter management organizations which operate a handful of schools. The unions just don’t have the wherewithal to organize one or even a few schools at a time. They have a much easier job in traditional public education where they can exert their influence on entire school districts.

Another reason that more charters aren’t organized is very simply that their teachers don’t want to be in a union. Teachers – frequently young ones – typically flock to charters because they like the autonomy that charters afford and don’t want to be loaded with an endless pile of restrictive work rules that are part and parcel of the typical collective bargaining agreement – a big reason why the de-bureaucratized and de-unionized schools came into being in the first place.

Charter school popularity is perpetually on the rise. Nationally, the number of students enrolled in them reached 2.5 million in 2013-2014, up 12.6 percent from the year before, according to the most recent enrollment estimates from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Ten years ago, charter enrollment was 789,000 – less than a third of what it is now.  As of last year, California alone had 1,130 charters, about 6 percent more than the year before. There was a 10.3 percent rise in charter student enrollment during that time, bringing the state total to 519,000.

The bad news is that there are still not enough. The California Charter School Association informs us that there are 91,000 students on waitlists. Supply just can’t keep up with demand.

At the same time, however, the unions are losing ground with charters. The Center for Education Reform reports that nationwide, the percentage of unionized charter schools has dropped from 12 in 2009 to a paltry 7 in 2012. In CA, there is a 15 percent unionization rate, but that number, from the 2009-2010 school year, is due for an update.

The low unionization rate is good news for students, who are better off when their charter school teachers aren’t organized. Evaluating Boston’s charter schools in 2009, Harvard economist Thomas Kane discovered that “students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.” In other words, a unionized charter is no different than a unionized traditional public school. Unions may support charters, but unionized charters are stripped of just about everything that makes them different from – and generally better than – traditional public schools.

By the way, Mercury will be in retrograde in a few days, so plan on the unions reverting to kill mode.  They’ll sponsor legislation that will, at best, try to limit charter expansion or, at worst, kill them off entirely. You can bet your astrology chart on it.

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.

UTLA Presidential Candidates Slam Charter Schools

At a Los Angeles teachers union election forum, presidential contenders portray charter schools as a disease that needs to be eradicated.

As reported by LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo, charter schools were a primary target at the February 20th symposium for presidential candidates of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Actually, it seemed as if each aspirant who spoke on the issue was trying to position himself as Charter School Enemy #1.

Before we get into the debate itself, let me just spill out a few facts about charter schools.

  • Charter schools are public schools of choice.
  • They are tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. They don’t cherry pick their students.  Charter schools allow parents, organizations, or community groups to restore, reinvent, and reenergize our public school system.
  • Charter schools are designed and governed by each local community, rather than by a central bureaucracy.
  • A charter school gets 3 to 5 years to do what it says it is going to do, and if it doesn’t succeed – unlike traditional public schools – it gets shut down.
  • In the U.S., there are 6,500 charter schools (in 42 states and D.C.), serving 2.5 million students; sadly there are 520,000 kids on wait lists.
  • In California, there are 1,130 schools, 500,000 students and 50,000 on wait lists.
  • According to the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst Office, in 2010-11, new charters got $721 less per pupil than traditional public schools. (Typically, the costs of the buildings are not included, although, according to California Charter School Association president Jed Wallace, CA’s new Local Control Funding Formula will equalize things.)

How well do charter schools perform? There have been many studies, the great majority of which claim that they do quite well, especially with some underserved student subgroups: low-income students, English Learners, African-American and Latino students. There’s mounting evidence that charter schools decrease dropout rates, increase college attendance rates and improve the quality of colleges that college-bound students attend.

If these kids go to college, do they actually graduate? And if charter schools really have lasting effects, shouldn’t they have an impact on how much money students earn? A new working paper examines these questions, and the answer is – in a word – yes

Not surprisingly, charter schools are very popular. Using just released data, by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Center for Policy Analysis blog reports that,

When families have public school choice, they increasingly select public charter schools over traditional public schools.

  • Over the past five years, student enrollment in public charter schools has grown by 80 percent.
  • … In seven school districts, more than 30 percent of students attend charter schools.
  • In 135 districts, at least 10 percent of students attend public charter schools.
  • Thirteen school districts saw increases in charter school enrollment ranging from nearly 20 to almost 60 percent in a single year.
  • … A 2013 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll indicates that nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools.

Referring to the same study, former state Senator Gloria Romero wrote in the Orange County Register that

… 600 new public charter schools opened their doors for the 2013-14 school year, serving an estimated 288,000 students. Over the past decade, charter school enrollment rose 225 percent, and the number of new schools rose 118 percent.

Nina Rees, alliance president and CEO, stated, ‘Parents are increasingly voting with their feet. This is the largest increase in the number of students attending charter schools we’ve seen since tracking [began]. … Independent research has shown time and again that charter school students perform better academically than their traditional-school peers. Families are catching on, and these enrollment figures reflect that.

California led the nation in the number of new charters and students served, adding 104 schools and serving an additional 48,000 students (despite the additional space, some 50,000 students remain on charter waiting lists). California was followed by Arizona, with 87 new schools; Florida, with 75; Texas, with 52; and New York, with 26.

As I wrote last year, the teachers unions have a schizoid relationship with charters. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they want to kill them off; on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays they want to unionize them. To date, only about 12 percent nationwide and 15 percent in CA have been unionized. Seems that many teachers value the freedom that non-unionization offers more than they care about the job protections that the unions provide. And this is just not okeydokey with union bosses, and the candidates for the UTLA presidency were not shy about expressing their opinions.

Three members immediately conceded that charters are too attractive to the public and are here to stay.

Gregg Solkovits, Alex Caputo-Pearl, and Bill Gaffney agreed that there’s no turning back the tide on the charter school movement within LA Unified and therefore UTLA must aggressively pursue efforts to organize charter school teachers.

Gaffney, who is a charter member of UTLA’s charter organizing committee said,

… charter school teachers are easily convinced that joining UTLA is much better deal for them. Although, he conceded, it is ‘a very scary process’ that involves a lot of secrecy for teachers with no legal protections.

Scary? No legal protections? Gee, not exactly great selling points.

Solkovits is currently a UTLA vice-president and longtime unionista. He was refreshingly honest when he said,

When charter schools are organized, they become much less attractive to our enemies.

Please note that he didn’t bother to mention the success of charter schools or long wait lists, which are the result of parents clamoring to get their kids out of lousy traditional public schools. Nah. He went right for the political. At least he didn’t come up with the typical union tripe about his position being “for the children.”

Not to be outdone, Saul Lankster, previously a teacher at two charter schools, has done an about-face and is staunchly anti-charter. As Romo writes, “His plan is to withdraw support from board members who support charter schools in favor of ones who oppose them.”

Leonard Segal wants to block charter expansion by changing California’s education code.

Then there is incumbent Warren Fletcher, who is perceived by many of the candidates to be a wimp. But regarding charters, he proudly pointed to the fact that he opposed Prop. 39, despite the UTLA leadership’s endorsement of the initiative in 2000. This law, among other things, allows for traditional public schools to let charter schools coexist on their campus (colocation) if room is available. This prop turned out embarrassing for traditional public schools and the union because charters frequently outperform their “colocatees” with kids from the same demographic. This phenomenon was spelled out quite clearly by Jason Riley. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he quotes from Steven Brill’s Class Warfare, which compares the teachers’ contracts at Harlem Success Academy, a high-performing charter school in New York City, and a traditional public school that shares the same building and teaches kids from the same socio-economic background.

‘The Harlem Success teachers’ contract drives home the idea that the school is about the children, not the grown-ups. It is one page, allows them to be fired at will, and defines their responsibilities no more specifically than that they must help the school achieve its mission. Harlem Success teachers are paid about 5 to 10 percent more than union teachers on the other side of the building who have their levels of experience.

‘The union contract in place on the public school side of the building is 167 pages. Most of it is about job protection and what teachers can and cannot be asked to do during the 6 hours and 57.5 minutes (8:30 to about 3:25, with 50 minutes off for lunch) of their 179-day work year.’

In … 2010, 29 percent of the students at the traditional public school were reading and writing at grade level, and 34 percent were performing at grade level in math. At the charter school, the corresponding numbers were 86 percent and 94 percent. (Emphasis added.)

Given the embarrassment factor, it’s easy to see why colocation and charters in general are issues for the teachers unions.

UTLA ballots went out yesterday, but it looks as if, no matter who gets elected as new UTLA president, the assault on charters – in spite of their success – will continue. As such, is it surprising that only 22 percent of Americans think that teachers unions have a positive effect on education? This is an all-time low figure and the unions are dealing with the deepening hole they are in by ordering more shovels.

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

Kill ‘Em or Unionize ‘Em

As charter schools have become more popular than ever, teachers unions dither about how to deal with them.

Though there are now over 6,000 charter schools in the U.S., including 1,000 in California, it’s not nearly enough to satisfy demand, as parents have awakened to the fact that many traditional public schools aren’t doing the job. According to a recent report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 520,000 students nationwide are on waiting lists, 50,000 of them residing in the Golden State.

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to operate outside the boundaries of costly multilayered district bureaucracies and piles of restrictive, union-mandated rules and regulations. If a charter doesn’t perform well, it gets shut down. (Interesting to note that when failing traditional public schools are closed in Philadelphia and Chicago, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers scream, but if a charter school closes – nary a peep from them.)

Studies have invariably proven that, while not a panacea, charters outperform traditional schools. An exception was the 2009 CREDO study, clung to by the unions and other naysayers, which found that charters didn’t outperform their counterparts. But the study was criticized for using flawed methodology that produced a biased result. However, a new CREDO study did indeed show that charters outperform traditional public schools, leaving the deniers with absolutely no credible defense.

But then again, the nation’s teachers unions never needed to cite any credible data because, well, they’re teachers unions. Their concern is not the most effective way to educate children; it is protecting the jobs of every last teacher, including the incompetents and worse. And the problem for the unions is that only 12 percent of charter schools nationally (15 percent in CA) are unionized.

So, the choice for the unions is to either try to kill charters or unionize them. For example, in this video we see former New York City teachers union vice-president Leo Casey pounding the table, demanding that charters be unionized. Stanley Aronowitz, a longtime union radical, refers to charter schools as “ratty” and “should be abolished,” before adding, “…yet at the same time we should organize them.”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was in “kill” mode when she said,

We should ask ourselves why we keep pitting charter schools against neighborhood public schools — a strategy that has created little more than a disruptive churn.

But the same Randi Weingarten, in “unionize” mode, after the AFT managed to organize 13 charters in Chicago said,

This is a turning point… This has the potential to change the conversation between charter operators and teachers.

On the national stage, The Wall Street Journal reports that the unions have

… drives under way at charter schools in several large cities, including Chicago, San Diego, and Philadelphia. NEA members adopted a resolution last year that “encourages” organizing efforts in charters and directed the national office to share with local chapters “key information” about lessons from previous union drives.

Here in California, the California Teachers Association seems to be at a “kill or unionize” crossroads. As teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci writes,

The union will decide in the coming months whether to send its monthly organ, California Educator, to all active charter school teachers, to create promotional materials for distribution to charter school teachers about the joys of teachers’ unions, and to create workshops for union activists with the title “How to Unionize Charter School Teachers.”

Yet at the same time CTA

… will contemplate creating a standing committee on the problem of charter schools, reversing a recent state law that gives charters first crack at surplus school property, persuading the legislature to order performance audits of charter schools, and shutting out charters from basic school appropriations so that they would have to have their own separate source of funding.

The rationale for this latter proposal is that “The harmful impact of charter schools needs to be made transparent. Having our active members vote on this issue will both educate and make the harm done by charter schools evident.”

I’m pretty sure this stuff won’t appear in the promotional materials CTA distributes to charter school teachers, but I’m confident they’re informed enough to know that the union has been the most implacable foe of charter schools in California for more than 20 years. (Emphasis added.)

The teachers unions in CA have a long history of trying to limit charter schools. Most recently in 2011, CTA’s AB 1172 would have had a chartering authority deny a charter petition if it makes a “written factual finding that the charter school would have a negative fiscal impact on the school district.” And the California Federation of Teachers’ AB 401 would have imposed a cap of 1,450 charter schools in California through January 1, 2017. Thankfully, neither bill became law.

After the 13 charters in Chicago decided to go union, Antonucci wrote,

Congratulations to the AFT, which succeeded in persuading the operators of the 13 United Neighborhood Organization’s charter schools to remain neutral during its unionization campaign. About 87 percent of the 415 employees voted to have the Chicago Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff represent them.

Picking up 400 new members in a charter school network is a win for AFT and teachers’ unions in general, no doubt of it. But let’s keep our heads, shall we?

When last I checked, there were an additional 381 charter schools (net) in 2012-13, enrolling an additional 275,000 students. Charter school staffing ratios vary widely, but even if we assume an average of 20 employees per school, that’s more than 7,600 charter school staffers added in a single year – mostly non-union.

Just to illustrate how charter school growth is swamping any unionization efforts, NEA and AFT would have had to organize 47 of those 381 new charter schools just to maintain their small market share.

And keeping that market share small is of great importance to parents and children. Jay Greene, in The Wall Street Journal, writes about a Boston study 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.)

When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. 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.

Millions of charter school parents – those who have their children enrolled and those on wait-lists –  have come to realize that their goals are way out of sync with the “kill or unionize” mob. The war between teachers unions and parents wanting to have their kids opt out of failing schools is in full swing and intensifying.

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.