Charter School Advocates Repulsed by Empowered Teachers

Workers produce all the wealth of society. Unions have been around for generations and exist to protect the rights of workers.

Currently, 90%—93% of privately operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools across the country have no teacher unions, whereas about 90% of public school teachers are unionized.

One of the claims to fame of deregulated charter schools is that they are union-free, which means that all teachers and other employees are treated much like voiceless workers in the corporate world—as “at-will” employees, which means that they can be fired at any time for nearly any reason; there is no due process. Charter school advocates nonchalantly present this as a good thing.

But due to persistently inferior working conditions in charter schools compared to public schools, teachers in many charter schools across the country have strived to establish, and in many cases have succeeded in establishing, a union to protect their rights and the rights of their students. In more than 90% of these situations, charter school owners-operators have reacted very negatively. Using multiple tactics and strategies, charter school owners-operators have usually gone out of their way to undermine efforts by teachers to unionize. Intimidation, threats, and bullying have frequently been used by charter school owners-operators against employees striving to defend their collective interests. The title of a 2016 Slate article says it all: How charter schools bust unions: By intimidating teachers. By scaring parents. And sometimes by calling the cops. ((Hella, W. How charter schools bust unions: By intimidating teachers. By scaring parents. And sometimes by calling the cops, Slate, September 29, 2016.))

Teachers organized into a union with a collective bargaining agreement that recognizes their needs as teachers is to charter schools what the crucifix is to Dracula. In some cases charter school owners-operators have closed a charter school just to retaliate against teachers trying to unionize. They would rather close an entire school and leave students and parents out in the cold, than affirm the needs of teachers who want only the best for their students and their families.

The most recent example of charter school teachers unionizing comes from Washington D.C., where thousands of students attend privately-operated charter schools. The Washington Post writes that:

Teachers and staff members at Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School are nearing a historic moment: They’re a vote away from settling with their bosses on a union contract, the first time that has happened at a D.C. charter school. ((Stein, P. “Teachers at D.C.’s only unionized charter school sign a contract, a first for the city“, Washington Post, November 15, 2019.))

Vicious opposition to unions at charter schools is best expressed by Mark Lerner, a major charter school advocate. Lerner thinks that teachers unionizing at a charter school is “a terrible development,” and that, “overall it will hurt our charter school movement.” ((“Teachers on cusp of creating first-ever union at D.C. charter school“, WAMU 88.5., November 14, 2019.)) For Lerner and his ilk, unions are an obstacle to the wrecking activity of pay-the-rich charter schools. Unions, for example, slow down or block the ability of charter school owners-operators to pocket as much public money as possible. Along with other charter school promoters who have no respect for even basic due process rights for employees, Lerner is angry about unions at charter schools because they impede the ability of charter school owners-operators to arbitrarily fire employees and make many top-down heavy-handed decisions. Is it any wonder that the student, teacher, and principal turnover rate is extremely high in charter schools.

Contrast this dark antiworker disposition with the progressive outlook of Andrea Molina, a kindergarten teacher at Mundo Verde, and a member of the bargaining unit: “We hope that this [unionization drive] is inspiration for other charter school teachers in the District. Teachers are workers too, and they deserve to be protected under the law and they deserve rights.” ((“Teachers on cusp of creating first-ever union at D.C. charter school“, WAMU 88.5, November 14, 2019.))

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.