Teachers unions continue their assault on school choice in California by Larry Sand


The California Federation of Teachers is sponsoring AB 401 – which if passed would limit charter school growth in California.

In April, Rasmussen Reports released the results of a poll which addresses American voters’ sentiments about our public schools. Some of the more interesting findings are:

• 72% say taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth from our schools, while only 11% think we are.
• By a margin of 41-34 (25% were unsure), those polled said that spending more money on education would not improve student performance.
• 61% believe that public educat ion has become worse over the last ten years.

Given the taxpayers’ increasing disaffection with our traditional public schools, charter schools would appear to be a good alternative. Charter schools are public schools, but are allowed to operate outside the boundaries of costly multilayered district bureaucracies, not to mention and pages and pages of restrictive union mandated rules and regulations.

There have been many studies of charter school effectiveness, with most showing them doing a superior job to traditional public schools. Despite the few studies that show there is no difference in educational outcomes, it is indisputable that most charters not only get the job done, they do it using far less money. For example, in California charters get only 69% of the funding that traditional public schools do.

Our formerly Golden State, with one of the most troubled traditional public school systems in the country, is home to 912 charter schools according to the California Charter School Association. This is the largest concentration of charters in the nation, serving 357,610 students. CCSA recently stated that their analysis shows “charters serving low-income populations are generating significantly better academic results than traditional public schools serving the same populations, thus demonstrating that charter schools are weakening the link between poverty and underperformance that is so prevalent in the traditional system.” Not bad results for 69 cents on the dollar! (For more information on charter school performance and accountability in CA, go here.)

Since roughly half of our state’s budget goes to fund education, and charters do the job for considerably less than traditional public schools, one might assume that our cash-strapped state would be strengthening its charter school laws and adding more of them, but this is anything but the case. In fact, with the support of the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers is sponsoring AB 401.  Authored by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, this bill would arbitrarily cap the number of charter schools in CA at 1450. The proposed law would sunset in January 2017 unless a subsequent law before then deletes or extends that date. So just when charter expansion is needed, the teachers unions are trying to strong-arm state legislators into applying the brakes.

Unlike 99+% of traditional public schools, only about 15% of charter schools in California are unionized, presenting a great problem for the teachers unions. Given the unions’ need to corral and collect dues from every teacher they can, so as to maintain a positive cash flow and their position as the state’s biggest power broker, charter schools are clearly an obstacle that must be overcome. The passage of AB 401 would certainly be one way to limit an expanding non-unionized work force.

Courtesy of Kyle Olson, President and CEO of the Education Action Group, we get to see the union’s frustration with charter schools in a refreshingly honest video. While the union bosses in the video are New Yorkers, the union mentality as portrayed is universal. We don’t hear the usual disingenuous union blather about their actions being “for the children” that we experience in print, radio and TV ads. We do see Leo Casey, a United Federation of Teachers Vice President, equating charter schools to Walmart — both entities being very resistant to unionization. Pounding on the table, he says that it is very important that charters be unionized. Stanley Aronowitz, a long time union radical is even more brutally honest when he says that charter schools are “ratty and should be abolished,” but then goes on, “…yet at the same time we should organize them.” Nope, no warm and fuzzy talk at this meeting – just the good old-fashioned, “If we can’t kill ‘em, we have to organize ‘em” mentality. Nowhere in this video is any thought or concern expressed for school kids, their families or taxpayers. But as I said, this is a union meeting, not some faux sentimental ad, the purpose of which is to con the public.

The bottom line is that teachers unions may do some good for its dues paying members, but for children, their families and taxpayers, they are poisonous. As such, when the unions sponsor legislation, people everywhere must take heed and start fighting back. Education activists and reformers can’t do it alone.

Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.