From the 2000-2001 through the 2015-2016 school years, enrollment in charter schools across the U.S. skyrocketed from 400,000 to 2.9 million. During the 2015-2016 academic year alone, more than 400 new charter schools opened.
Charters are public institutions that furnish their services to K-12 schoolchildren free of charge, but are subject to fewer regulations than traditional district public schools.
Big Labor is alarmed by the rapid rise of charters because, in stark contrast to K-12 public schools overall, where an estimated 68% of teachers nationwide are subject to union monopoly bargaining, only an estimated 7% of charter schools are unionized.
The bosses of the massive American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) and National Education Association (NEA) teacher unions and their affiliates have made charter schools the targets of innumerable organizing campaigns over the past 15 years or so, but so far have had relatively little success at persuading charter school educators that monopolistic unionism is in their best interest.
Since they have been unable to seize so-called “exclusive” representation power over more than a small share of charter employees, government union chiefs like AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia are determined at least to stymie charters’ growth. Part of their strategy is to oppose raising or eliminating the caps on charter-school capacity that are currently on the books in many states.
One key charter-school battleground this fall is forced-unionism Massachusetts. According to the most recent available data, just 36,000 schoolchildren in the Bay State attend one of the roughly 70 charters now in operation. That’s 3.9% of the total public school attendance. But many parents and schoolchildren, especially those who live in urban districts like Boston, Springfield and Lawrence, would like the charter school share to be much higher. The growing demand for charters is easy to understand. Unconstrained by Big Labor-backed rules that make it almost impossible to fire ineffective teachers and pay good ones what they’re worth, many charter schools do a far better job of helping schoolchildren learn than do union boss-dominated district public schools. For example, according to a three-year-old Stanford University study, Boston charter students “gain an additional 12 months in reading and 13 months in math per school year.”
Many parents who are concerned about their kids’ futures try to switch them from failing public schools to charters, but find they can’t due to Massachusetts laws limiting the number of charters that can be built. Currently 32,000 kids are on wait lists as a result of charter “caps.” But Question 2, a referendum to be voted on statewide this fall, would allow significantly faster expansion of charters. If Question 2 is adopted, Massachusetts will be authorized to open as many as 12 new charters a year.
Union bigwigs are determined to stop that from happening. Towards that end, they have established a Big Labor front group, “Save Our Public Schools” (SOPS), which is dedicated to defeating Question 2. As education investigative journalist Mike Antonucci has pointed out (see the first link below), as of mid-September SOPS had raked in $7.2 million, with 99.86% of it coming from the coffers of the NEA and AFT unions and those of their affiliates. And last week the NEA union executive committee okayed another $3 million for the campaign against Question 2 (see the second link below).
Of course, the Big Labor money pouring into anti-charter school campaigns overwhelmingly consists of dues and fees that teachers in Massachusetts and roughly 20 other states are forced to fork over to union bosses in order to keep their jobs. In short, Massachusetts teachers who would prefer if they could to work at a union-free charter school, where they could receive compensation and promotions based on their individual achievements rather than a one-size-fits-all union contract, are being forced to help Weingarten, Eskelsen-Garcia, and other union bosses prevent them from getting the opportunity!
Government union bosses’ cynical campaign against Question 2 is just another illustration of why they shouldn’t be granted forced-dues privileges, in Massachusetts or in any other state.