I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

It's Official: Charters are NOT Public Schools

The National Labor Relations Board gives its verdict: charter schools are NOT public schools!
Teachers at a Chicago charter school are now subject to private-sector labor laws, rather than state laws governing public workers. The move could impact how public schools are run down the road.
The ruling, made by the National Labor Relations Board last month, said the Chicago Math and Science Academy is a “private entity” and therefore covered under the federal law governing the private sector.
The decision overrules a vote taken by teachers last year to form a union in accordance with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. At the time, two-thirds of teachers at the school approved the union and it became official under state law.  
But school managers wanted to follow federal labor law, which among other things would require a vote by secret ballot.
“This case was really about whether you organize via one method or another,” said Andrew Broy, director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “It wasn’t about you can organize at all, whether you can bust unions, or anything like that.” [emphasis mine]
Oh, no, of course not! Everyone loves the teachers unions! It's not like reformies blame them for every problem under the sun or anything!

No, the issue here is that charter teachers are held to different labor standards than traditional public school teachers. But that doesn't mean that charter teachers aren't equal to public school employees! No, it just means that some public employees are more equal than others!

Still, the case was watched closely by unions and charter supporters across the country. Several groups, including the American Federation of Labor and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools filed briefs.
That’s because charter schools are publicly-funded, but privately-run. The public-private, hybrid nature of charter schools creates a number of gray areas when it comes to accountability and governance.
In many ways, they are like government contractors, said James Powers, the attorney representing CMSA. A school district signs a contract with a private group, usually a non-profit organization, to run a school and allocates public money based on the number of students served.
No, they aren't "like" government contractors - they are contractors. They are no different than Halliburton, and they pay to manipulate policy and politicians in exactly the same way as defense contractors.
Apart from the legal ramifications, deeming a charter schools as "private" adds fuels to the debate over the future of traditional public schools. 
A spokesman for the Chicago Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff, which helped CMSA teachers organize, said they are still analyzing the ruling to determine what impact it could have on existing charter school unions and future organizing efforts.
Both sides said it's still a gray issue.
“This technical area of labor relations is one that’s developing,” Broy said. “This is a chapter of it, but it will continue in the coming weeks, and months, and years to be an issue, both here in Chicago and nationally.”
Sorry, but it's not gray in the slightest. Charters are not subject to the same oversight, accountability, and legislation as public schools. They don't have to take every student who shows up at their door at any time of year. They don't have to serve the same population of students as their neighboring public schools: often, they don't.

And now we know charter school teachers are subject to different laws - laws governing private companies - than public school teachers.

The next time some reformy charter cheerleader tries to tell you that charters are public schools, tell them the federal government already settled the issue:

Charters are not public schools.

The debate is over.

ADDING: Oh, my...

Boy, that privatization is working out so awesome, ain't it?


Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

Thanks Duke.

You can't make this bold enough or big enough: "Charters are not public schools"

The National Labor Relations Board joins all the other agencies of the state that have unequivocably ruled that that charters are private entities.

The California Court of Appeals (2007-01-10) which ruled that charter schools are NOT "public agents."

The 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals (2010-01-04) which ruled that charter schools are NOT "public actors."

Moreover, the US Census Department expressed difficulty in obtaining information from charter schools because the are NOT public entities.

giuseppe said...

In NJ, the residents have no say whether a charter school will be dumped in their distict or not. The residents don't get to vote directly on the charter school budget and they don't get to vote for the charter school board of directors. Charter schools don't have to answer to the duly elected school board of the district. Yep, they are private schools that steal public money. They do not work in cooperation with the public schools. I guess I don't have to specify traditional public school any more? We'll see.

Unknown said...

Why on earth were the unions pushing a position against National Labor Relations Act protections for the teachers? They gotta be better than Illinois public employee labor law.

briandharris said...

Our union has fought this same fight many times, in fact, almost every time we've organized a charter. When we organized Civitas Schools (where I work) in 2009, the state labor board recognized our status as public school teahers, while the employer continued to claim private status under the NLRB. When we lost that fight, we agreed to a quick NLRB election, making the call that it was more important for us to have a voice in our schools than to continue to play into the employer's game over jurisdiction battles, recognizing that it's nothing more than a strategy designed to drag things out until the union agitators quit in disgust. Teachers at my school are under NLRA to this day.

I look at it like this: the vast (and I say "vast" because we've never gone forward with a slim majority) of teachers wants a union; what does it matter what law they organize under? If you respect your teachers, you won't behave as if this esoteric labor law question is THE ISSUE THAT MUST BE RESOLVED before they can exercise their rights, even if it takes years, and you sure as hell won't spend bucketloads of public education dollars on it, either.

Thanks for writing about us!

Brian Harris, President, Chicago ACTS, Local 4343

Anonymous said...

Many State Constitutions only allow public tax money to be used to support PUBLIC schools not private.

so one would assume that if "charters" are not public then by constitutional law they should not receive public funding.

Duke said...

Thx everyone. Don't know if Federal or state protections are better. But no one can say charters are public if their employees have PRIVATE corporation workplace rights.

Unknown said...

wonderful for Chicago! But since you're the JERSEY jazzman shouldn't you be reporting on the status of charter laws in JERSEY?