Charter School Update

Published September 1, 2001

At its annual Representative Assembly in Los Angeles in July, the National Education Association adopted a new policy on charter schools that would force charters to operate much like traditional public schools . . . without the benefit of access to tax dollars to pay for startup and construction.

The new policy reaffirmed the union’s opposition to granting charters to for-profit companies.

“We do not believe that charter schools ought to exist just as a choice,” said Eddie Davis, chairman of the NEA Special Committee on Charter Schools, when presenting the committee’s report to the delegates.

The new union policy would prohibit the creation of single-sex charter schools by insisting on “equitable, non-discriminatory admission procedures.” The policy’s other provisions for charter schools include:

  • hiring only certified teachers;
  • allowing teachers to keep their collective bargaining rights;
  • carrying out the same student tests as traditional public schools;
  • having sufficient funds for startup and construction without relying heavily on tax revenue.

“They like charter schools as long as they look and act like public schools,” observed Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform.

Local Affiliate Sees Benefits to Corporate Charters

In May, the Education Intelligence Agency exclusively exposed how the Pennsylvania State Education Association last November had adopted a task force report outlining a new strategy for bringing charter school employees “under the umbrella of collective bargaining.”

The task force viewed corporations operating multiple charter schools as an opportunity to create cost-effective statewide bargaining units.

The task force report pointed out that, while only one of Pennsylvania’s 68 approved charter schools was unionized, the small size of the average charter school–only 16 teachers per school–made representation “not cost-effective.” Traditionally, the union had opposed the formation of such schools, but the task force suggested this opposition was unlikely to succeed and could backfire on the union in terms of negative publicity.

“[Charter schools] will continue to extend their reach because they provide an expanded range of consumer choices and also provide options for students who are not fitting well into their regular public schools,” wrote the report’s authors.

Since this type of outsourcing had led to a decline in union membership in other industries, the task force recommended establishing the objective of organizing all charter school employees. “If we lose our grip on the labor supply to the education industry, we will bargain from a position of weakness,” declared the task force.

However, corporations like Edison Schools, Inc. could provide a framework to resolve this problem for the union. Edison operates multiple charter schools in the same state, a situation the task force viewed as an opportunity to consolidate charter school employees into a single statewide bargaining unit. The task force checked out Edison’s business plan–making a profit by reducing administrative expenses–and found it viable.

“In short, PSEA hopes the future will bring us a ‘local’ NEA affiliate–an Edison Schools Education Association–that would represent the employees who work for Edison statewide . . . perhaps even nationwide,” noted Education Intelligence Agency director Mike Antonucci.

For more information . . .

The Pennsylvania State Education Association’s November 30, 2000 23-page report, “Report of the Charter Schools Strategic Options Project,” is available from the Education Intelligence Agency in Adobe Acrobat format by emailing a request to [email protected].