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Unionizing Charter Schools

With few exceptions, charter schools to date have been staffed by non-union teachers.  But on Feb. 1, the National Labor Relations Board voted 2-1 that teachers and aides at New Orleans's Lusher Charter School are eligible to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act ("The Drive to Unionize Charter Schools, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 22).  Although teachers there eventually voted 77-54 against unionization, the issue is not dead - nor should it be.

Supporters of charter schools maintain that freedom from union rules is why they are successful.  I reject that claim out of hand.  Whatever success they have has nothing to do with being union-free.  Instead, charter schools operate by a different set of rules.  For example,  charter schools can push out underperforming and disruptive students.  If traditional public schools could, I doubt there would be much of a difference.

Several states, including Maryland, Alaska and Hawaii require charter schools to be unionized.  But overall, unions are present in just seven percent of the nation's charter schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District, where I taught for my entire 28-year career, has more charter schools than any other district.  When teachers at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter system in Los Angeles, announced that they wanted to unionize, the operator acted so aggressively to defeat their wishes that a local judge issued an injunction against its apparent labor law violations.

I expect to see more charter school teachers in Los Angeles and elsewhere indicate that they want to unionize.  The latest evidence comes from the District of Columbia, where teachers at Paul Public Charter School have asked the schools' governing board to recognize their union.  Whatever the outcome there, I believe that the need for job security and the desire for input will eventually overcome whatever reservations about unionization exist.  But it's going to be an uphill battle because of widespread belief that teachers' unions are the culprit.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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