Teachers’ Unions Oppose Charters Schools; Use the Power to Strike to Stop Competition from Charter Schools

Note: Join me on Justice & Drew (1130AM NewsTalk) this morning at 7:55; we will be discussing this growing use of the strike by teachers’ unions to take out their competition and deny parents the options they need for their children. 

The National Education Association (NEA) updated its policy on charter schools by adopting a “new” policy on charter schools in 2017. The policy is an aggressive statement against charter schools, a fast-growing competitor for student enrollment. Charter schools, which are independent but publicly funded are mostly union-free, popular alternatives to unionized public schools, especially for inner city parents looking for alternatives to failing schools.

Minnesota adopted charter schools in 1991 with bipartisan support, led by Gov. Rudy Perpich. The idea is to free parents and educators to innovate and offer alternatives to the highly regulated and unionized public schools.

The Minnesota Association of Charter Schools lists 175 schools, mostly in the metro area. Currently forty-four states allow charter schools.

The NEA called the new policy a “fundamental shift.” The new NEA Policy Statement on Charter Schools will boost NEA’s forceful support of state and local efforts to limit charter growth and increase charter accountability, and slow the diversion of resources from neighborhood public schools to charters. Meanwhile, the policy allows the NEA to continue organizing charter school educators who want to provide all students, no matter where they live, with the opportunity for a great education, and are standing up for better, more accountable charter schools.

Mike Antonucci, a reporter specializing in teachers’ unions, had this to say about the NEA’s policy:

All you need to know about NEA’s position on charter schools is actually contained in the original 2001 policy, which states that charters should not exist “simply to provide a ‘choice’ for parents who may be dissatisfied with the education that their children are receiving in mainstream public schools.”

In other words, if your neighborhood school is not a good fit for your child, or it is not delivering a quality education or safe environment, the union wants to deny you and your child the choice of a charter school. (They also opposed vouchers for private schools.)

Last week, the Washington Examiner reported that teachers’ unions are successfully capping the growth of charter schools, or stopping the renewal of existing charter schools, as part of the negotiated settlement during recent strikes across the country—or following “pressure campaigns.”

Teachers’ unions are using strikes across the country to move against charter schools, which threaten their power.

Strikes in California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Wisconsin, and West Virginia have provided an opportunity for unions to ramp up their opposition to charters in places where they are starting to serve a larger portion of students. “In some of these states, the issue is being pressure-tested for the first time,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

This is a troubling use of strikes (some legal, some illegal depending on the state law) because unions are using their clout to limit, or even take out, their competition instead of using their clout to improve the quality of education and teachers’ professional experience at unionized schools. It is a back-door veto on state-based legislation and policies in favor of offering flexibility and choices for parents, who after all, know what is best for the children.

The LA and Oakland teacher strikes ended with school board resolutions calling for a state-wide cap on charter schools. (The LA board also denied a renewal of school charter started by a former teacher who in just a few short years was winning accolades for the high performance of students.)

The strikers in West Virginia got the Gov. Jim Justice to veto legislation establishing seven new charter schools. “The West Virginia strike was a revolt against the argument that traditional public schools and the people who work in them are failing, and that they must be challenged by charter schools, private school vouchers. And we won,” tweeted Bob Morgenstern, regional director for American Federation of Teachers–West Virginia on Feb. 20.

Gov. Tony Evers, who had worked with charter schools as the head of the state education agency, proposed a freeze on charters and student enrollment.

And the Chicago Board of Education, after being pressured by the union voted down the renewal of an existing school, proposals for three new charter schools. The union has called for a moratorium in Chicago which is plagued by dysfunctional and violent schools. Here is the NEA in 2017:

 “What every child needs is a quality, well-equipped school right in his or her neighborhood, where he can learn, be inspired and thrive,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle.

We agree with the NEA on that and think that the more choices parents have for their children, and the more professional options teachers have for their talents, the better.

Photo credit: In Defense of Marxism