A combination of powerful aggressive teacher unions and compliant state and local politicians have produced a perfect storm that threatens to destroy the future of charter schools and the children who benefit from them.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools independent of school districts, which have more flexibility and autonomy than traditional public schools. In exchange for this flexibility and autonomy, charters must receive initial and periodic approvals by local or state governing bodies.
There is wide research showing that charter schools raise student achievement more than traditional public schools.
For example, a large 2015 Stanford University study examined 41 urban regions around the country and found that “urban charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their [traditional public school] peers.”
Further, “Learning gains for charter school students are larger by significant amounts for Black, Hispanic, low income, and special education students in both math and reading.”
Despite such positive evidence, the charter-school idea is under assault from coast to coast, especially as union-led teacher strikes pound states and localities.
In West Virginia, one of the few states without any charter schools, unionized teachers voted to go on strike to defeat a bill that would have created seven charter schools and 1,000 education savings accounts for special-needs children.
In the aftermath of the strike, which ended with teachers getting a significant pay raise from the state legislature, Fred Albert, head of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate in West Virginia, crowed not about the pay raise, but about deep-sixing the school-choice bill.
His union members, Albert said, wanted the choice bill “to be killed, to be dead” and “that is what has happened.”
Albert’s union members may have wanted that result, but many parents felt differently.
Interviewed by Jayme Metzgar of The Federalist, West Virginia public-school parent Kathie Crouse described verbal and emotional abuse of her son and his classmates by teachers, plus harassment by school staff and the school board.
“I remember telling my husband,” said Crouse, “I wish we had charter schools in this state.”
Yet, as education analyst and former teacher Larry Sand noted, “in West Virginia, a powerful special interest leaned on compliant legislators, who then ruled to maintain the failing status quo.”
In California, union teachers in Los Angeles and Oakland went on strike, partly over pay and work issues, but also over the increasing competition from mostly non-union charter schools.
In both cities, the local school boards buckled and not only voted for big pay increases for teachers, but also voted for resolutions supporting a halt to the expansion of charter schools in the state.
Charter schools educate roughly 10 percent of California’s students, but that is too much for the teacher unions.
The California Teachers Association has unveiled a package of sponsored bills designed to torpedo charter schools.
Gavin Newsom, the new CTA-endorsed Democrat governor, has just signed a fast-tracked bill that would subject charter schools to increased state regulation.
Jerry Brown, Newsom’s pro-charter predecessor, had twice vetoed identical bills.
On deck is a bill to cap the number of charter schools in the state and another to limit the ability of charter-school organizers to appeal anti-charter decisions by often union-controlled local school boards to county and state boards of education.
“Taken together,” says the Charter Schools Development Center, these and other union-sponsored bills “signal the union’s intent to cripple California’s charter schools sector.”
The Stanford study observed that “successful charter schools are growing in number and expand the evidence base that schools and communities can organize and operate public schools that deliver academic progress their students need to be successful in school, work, and life.”
But if the teacher unions and their elected political factotums have their way, that expansion will be stopped dead, which will ensure a dead-end future for the children trapped in failing traditional public schools.