The California Teachers Association can’t realistically unionize all charter schools, so it promotes laws that limit their numbers.

In Golden Missed Opportunity, recently published in City Journal, I examined the options that families in California have if they want to remove their children from failing public schools. The pickings in the Golden State are rather slim, and those options we do have — charter schools, homeschooling and the Parent Trigger — are constantly imperiled by a governor and state legislators who typically do the bidding of the California Teachers Association, the largest state affiliate of the National Education Association.

Charter schools are public schools which aren’t bound by the bloated union contracts that stifle so many traditional public schools. California has over 900 charter schools that currently educate about 400,000 students. To the union’s consternation, only about 15 percent of these schools are unionized. Of course, the union would like to see a 100 percent rate, but accomplishing that would take too much effort and money. Additionally, the flexibility that non-unionization offers is one of the attractions of charter schools for many teachers.

So instead of unionizing, CTA tries to eviscerate current charter laws or get caps on the allowable number of charters. At this time, there are three pieces of CTA sponsored legislation working their way around Sacramento. In fact, just last week the state assembly voted 45-28 to approve one of them, AB 1172. The bill, now in the Senate Rules Committee, was authored by State Assemblyman and former teacher and union activist Tony Mendoza. If AB 1172 becomes law, it would allow a school board to block the creation of a new charter school if it would have a “negative fiscal impact” on the school district. However, “negative fiscal impact” is never really defined, and California charter law already has clearly defined reasons why new petitions can be denied.

Also worth noting is that charter schools get less funding than traditional public schools. According to the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst Office, in 2010-11, new charters got $721 less per pupil than traditional public schools.

In a press release, President of the California Charter School Association Jed Wallace, referring to AB 1172, said that,

“This bill is an attack on charter school students who choose to attend charter schools. California has been a leader in the charter movement, and has the highest number of charter schools and charter school students in the nation. Those numbers rise every year due to parent and student demand for better public education choices. We cannot condone any measure that would deny parents and students the right to choose the best public school.”

And of course, Wallace is right. At this time, charters make up about 10 percent of all public schools in California. Keeping the percentage that low would severely limit the options that parents have in deciding where to send their children to school. This agenda-driven legislation reflects nothing more than the teachers union flexing its muscle in an attempt to keep its political power from eroding. And if children and families are hurt in the process, so be it.

One last note: To give you an idea of the political weight of CTA, the union was the biggest spender on candidates and causes in California in the years 2000-2009, when they spent over $211 million. Additionally, Common Cause has just released the 2011 Campaign Finance and Lobbying Report and CTA was number one here also, spending $6.57 million. Given these numbers, it’s hardly surprising that CTA is easily the biggest power broker in the state.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, 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.

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