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Teachers' Union Attempts to Strangle Charters

Walter Russell Mead

Teachers’ unions are using the same kind of approach to kill charter schools that abortion opponents use to shut abortion clinics down: pile up expensive regulations that make it increasingly difficult to operate. The Wall Street Journal:

The United Federation of Teachers said in January that pushing “anti-creaming” legislation was a priority. The budget bill released over the weekend by the Democrat-led Assembly, long allied with labor, includes harsher penalties for charters that don’t enroll and retain the same share of students who are poor, disabled or English language learners as their community.

For example, the bill says that if one site of a charter network falls short of an enrollment target, the entire network can’t open new locations until it hits its goal.

The bill also says that if a charter misses a demographic target, it must keep slots open for students in that underserved category. Charter backers say that requirement would make charters lose per-pupil funding and deny slots to needy students.

There are, however, other ways that school districts can address legitimate concerns about whether charter schools are serving hard to serve children. The unions may hate it because it isn’t punitive, but state and federal education should be topping up the reimbursement that charters get for enrolling kids with special needs or other problems, including poverty and home problems, that put them at risk. Increasing the value of the voucher that parents of such children get, or increasing the per-pupil payment that government pays charter schools will help ensure that charter operators will make special efforts to reach out to these communities.

The hostility between many teacher unions and the charter school and voucher movement is a tragedy of modern American life. What we really need is a proliferation of teacher-owned, teacher-managed cooperative educational ventures—operating either in public school buildings or in churches or in other community spaces. These coops should receive favorable regulatory and tax treatment, and give teachers the latitude to teach in an environment they control. Different coops would cater to different kinds of students, or different age groups, or offer different educational philosophies. Parents would be able to chose among many alternative programs, and teacher assessment could be something that the community would do in a much richer and holistic way—good coops would get good word of mouth.

Developing an education approach that offers more choice, that prioritizes the needs of poor students, that offers rewards for good teachers while setting them free to run their own programs rather than kowtow to administrators: this is something America can and ought to do. We can spend less money on administration and centralized bureaucracies while putting more resources in the hands of teachers—teachers who are closely watched by parents and accountable to them, but also who are independent professionals whose achievements bring them status, security and respect.

And it will also be good for kids.

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