Resisting the Union Assault on Charter Schools

In an April 2019 report in the respected website CalMatters entitled “Charter-mageddon: Lawmakers advance a raft of union-backed charter school curbs,” the ongoing battle between charter school advocates and their foes is updated as follows: “While the two sides have battled for decades—typically to a draw—the political momentum has shifted in favor of organized labor this session.”

This is an understatement. On April 4th, three charter-killer bills cleared the State Assembly’s Education Committee, and all of them have a good chance of moving on to the Governor’s desk, where Gavin Newsom is considered far more likely to sign them than former Gov. Brown would have been. These bills, as reported in CalMatters, “would give local school districts the sole power to authorize charter schools [AB 1505], create state and local caps on the number of charters allowed to operate [AB 1506], and put strict limits on charter school locations [AB 1507].”

The war on charter schools has raged for over twenty years in California. The teachers unions have contended that because public school revenue is allocated based on attendance, charter schools take away badly needed funds. But these same unions typically complain that classrooms are overcrowded, which means charter school enrollments has nothing to do with the financial challenges facing traditional public schools.

Rather than face the true challenges – out of control pension and retirement healthcare costs, and out of control hiring of administrative and support personnel that never see the inside of a classroom – the powerful teachers unions are out to kill charter schools. For years, the unions fought a low intensity war against charters, based on the assumption that their relentless push to unionize the charter schools would allow conquest from within. But then the U.S. Supreme Court made the unionization push more difficult.

The urgency of the union campaign to kill charter schools has been elevated by the recent Janus vs AFSCME decision, which permits individual teachers to opt out of paying union dues, or even union “agency fees.” And it’s not going to end there. Additional cases are working their way through the courts, such as Uradnik vs IFO, which would take away a public sector union’s right to exclusive representation, or Few vs UTLA, which would nullify many steps the unions have taken to thwart the Janus ruling.

Resistance is NOT Futile

Despite the incredible power of the teachers unions – the three major ones combined, CTA, CFT, and CSEA, collected over a half-billion in revenue last year – it is not a sure thing that these bills will pass into law. And despite the mega-majority of Democrats – who now occupy more than 75 percent of the seats in both chambers of California’s state legislature – these bills can be stopped. Because supporting charter schools is a bipartisan issue. Democratic politicians fear losing union money, but they also want to do the right thing. Allowing charter schools to continue to offer educational alternatives, especially considering the dismal performance of California’s public schools, is the right thing to do.

An example of what can be done to help prevent passage of charter-killer legislation is shown below. This model resolution, provided by the California Charter Schools Association, has been adopted by the Orange County Board of Education, the Sacramento County Board of Education, and the Riverside County Board of Education. It addresses AB 1505, which would deny the ability of charter school applicants rejected by school district boards to appeal to the county or state boards of education.

COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION RESOLUTION – SAMPLE LANGUAGE

Resolution in the Matter of Opposition to Assembly Bill 1505 (O’Donnell, McCarty, Smith) to eliminate the power and discretion of county boards of education to authorize charter schools and make other changes to law that would result in the closure and denial of many charter schools throughout the state, without regard to the quality, need or demand for the school.

WHEREAS, the California Charter Schools Act was enacted in 1992 to “to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure” and to “Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.”

WHEREAS, AB 1505 repeals Education Code Section (EC) 47605.5 which allows a county board to approve charters for county programs and populations and EC Section 47605.6 which eliminates county boards the option to establish charters for county programs or of a county-wide benefit, thereby eliminating critical tools for county board to establish high quality programs to meet the needs of their students.

WHEREAS, the _____ County Board of Education has authorized and oversees _____ of the Charter Schools on appeal or as a countywide benefit charter school focused on _____ and serving _____ students.

WHEREAS, AB 1505 would remove a critical safeguard and safety net for local communities to appeal to a neutral party an often-political decision to deny or close high-quality schools and denying families and teachers the right to appeal a local charter decision to higher authority eliminates a critical backstop that is a centerpiece of democratic justice and due process.

WHEREAS, under AB 1505, over 220 state and county-approved and operating schools would be required to close or seek local authorization without regard to their quality or effectiveness, resulting in a costly bureaucratic process that will unnecessarily disrupt the lives of well over 100,000 students, teachers and their families without regard to the quality, need or demand for the school and limits high quality public education options for families and students, especially those most underserved students trapped in failing schools.

WHEREAS, AB 1505 requires county offices of education to approve all charter LCAPs in the county without any additional resources to do so.

WHEREAS, Governor Newsom and SPI Thurmond have established a Blue Ribbon Commission to evaluate the impact of charter schools on school districts, thereby making AB 1505 premature and imposing any such significant new restrictions on charter schools before the Governor’s Commission has had a chance to do it work would thwart the intent and value of the Commission.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Education of the County of Sacramento, hereby opposes AB 1505 (O’Donnell, McCarty, Smith).

PASSED AND ADOPTED by the Board of Education of the County of _____, at a regular public meeting thereof duly called and held this _____ day of _____ 2019.

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