By Larry Sand
Yet another group of angry teachers has made charter schools the focus of their wrath. The seven-day teacher strike, which ended in Oakland last week, was replete with typical teacher union demands like higher pay and smaller class sizes, and the au courant enemy target: charter schools. The final agreement includes a stipulation that the school board take a vote on whether to push the state for a charter school moratorium.
Apparently, the Oakland teachers were buoyed by a similar demand introduced by their brethren in Los Angeles after their recent six-day strike. And who can blame them?! According to a 2017 report from the California Charter School Association, Oakland charters, home to 30 percent of the city’s students, performed on average in the 45th percentileon the state administered standardized tests, while Oakland traditional public schools (TPS) performed at the 25th percentile.
In Los Angeles, where 26 percent of all students are charter-educated, a 2014 study showed that the city’s charter school students receive the equivalent of about 50 more days of learning in reading and 79 days of math than students in the city’s TPS.
So what to do about these embarrassing differences? In Los Angeles, the union honchos and their acolytes trotted out the “siphon” argument, claiming that charter schools, privately run and publicly funded, drain money from TPS.
However, as president of Govern for California’s David Crane pointed out recently, the union’s own math tells a different story. He writes that according to the United Teachers of Los Angeles the LA school district will spend $591 million on charter schools this year. “In comparison, LAUSD will spend nearly $1 billion this year on retirement costs. The money spent on charter schools serves 138,000 children. The money spent on retirement costs serves no children.” Therefore, the major “siphon” culprits are the retirees, not charters.
One other union talking point is that charters “cream” students. In other words, they won’t accept certain hard-to-educate kids, while TPS are forced to take everyone. This is just not true. In Oakland, for example, charter schools serve virtually the same proportion of low-income, high needs students (77 percent), as the district schools (78 percent).
Even more impressive is that Los Angeles charters are making do with 73 percent of the funding of district schools, while Oakland gets just 63 percent.
Nevertheless, there is a bundle of anti-charter bills currently moving through the legislature in Sacramento. With a majority of union bought-and-paid-for legislators and a very charter-unfriendly governor in Gavin Newsom, it’s hard to imagine that they all won’t become law. AB 1505would knock out the appeals process. The way things are now, if a charter is turned down by a local school district it can appeal to the county, and state, if necessary. AB 1506 would cap the number of charters at 1,323, the number now operating. A new charter school could open only if another one closes. (For a complete look at all the new bills, EdSource’s John Fensterwald has a rundown here.)
Needless to say, the California Teachers Association is crowing about the new bills. In a press release, the union rolled out the standard buzz-terms, referring to “corporate” charter schools, and insists that the proposed charter prohibitions are “about kids, not profits.” Wrong. It’s really about protecting unionized jobs.
Back in the real world…Eric Premack, a veteran charter school policy adviser, correctly referred to the raft of California’s new bills as a “full-frontal” assault and “scorched earth” approach to charter schools.
Myrna Castrejón, president of the California Charter School Association also weighed in, saying that the “villainization of charters driving districts to brink of insolvency is salacious.” She adds, “Not for a second will I apologize for the growth of charters that are meeting the needs of parents and are contributing to lifting up our brown and black kids, our disadvantaged students and providing them a lifeline of opportunity for greater success in our great state.”
The unions, with assistance from their legislative toadies, are pushing an agenda that will hurt many of our neediest children in order to protect their turf. In other words, business as usual.
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.