Monday, April 29, 2013

The Last Word On Charter Schools As Their Teachers Scramble To Unionize

"Charter School Teachers Join the Union?" Surprise, surprise!  In a post by Samantha Winslow at, we learn that unionism is being bolstered by yet another example of capitalism's excess - the charter schools:

"Teachers at Ivy Academia in Los Angeles are the latest to join a wave of union organizing victories at charter schools.

"Fifty-six teachers and counselors joined the L.A. teachers’ union in February, following on the heels of schools in Michigan and New York. The American Federation of Teachers says its affiliates now represent 8,000 members at 191 charter schools. The National Education Association co-represents many charters with AFT and calculates there are about 625 unionized charters total.

"Ivy teachers make less than public school teachers and are given extra job duties outside the classroom, said Tom Kuhny, a middle school teacher at Ivy for seven years.

“'You come in at less salary. You work longer hours because you are at-will,' he said.

"Deb Schwartz, an 11th grade English teacher, said that in the 2012 school year, teachers were given 13 furlough days in anticipation of the state budget crisis. 'We felt we did not have a voice in some of the decisions and changes,' Schwartz said.

"When school funding was restored, teachers got back only five of the 13 unpaid days. 'At that point,' she said, 'everyone got together and said, ‘This doesn’t seem right.’

"Teachers also wanted stability. Schwartz said, 'It is held over our heads on a daily basis that there is a glut of teachers waiting to replace us, because we don’t have a union.'


"Teachers’ unions have battled school districts as they close public schools and replace them with charters, which the unions see as privatization efforts driven by business interests.

"Nonetheless, charters continue to grow—and the AFT and NEA have been compelled to turn to organizing teachers there. The Department of Education says the number of charters tripled between 2000 and 2010, while their share of public schools grew from less than 2 percent to 5 percent.

"Nowhere is this proliferation more evident than in Los Angeles, which has 183 charters. They enroll almost double the number of students of any other city, nearly 80,000.

"Only 40 schools are union thus far. Twenty are part of the Green Dot chain and are affiliated with the NEA’s state-level California Teachers Association. Six are conversion charter schools, where teachers petitioned to become an independent charter school and remain in their local union, United Teachers Los Angeles. UTLA now represents 900 charter teachers, at nine different employers.

"Studies show charters have higher turnover than traditional public schools. 'Turnover in general is an issue for teachers,' Brooklyn College professor David Bloomfield said. ;The difference is, it’s part of the business model for many charters, because it keeps salaries low. It keeps the demands for benefits low.'

"Charters are paid an amount per pupil similar to public schools by the school district or state, but save money because they don’t pay into pension and benefit funds the way unionized districts do. Charters can also be exempt from some of the rules and regulations traditional public schools must follow, depending on state law.

"Bloomfield said charter teachers’ joining unions is “part of the maturing of the charter movement, because, as teachers who haven’t left grow older, they want to take control of their labor destiny.”

"At Ivy Academia, teachers avoided the drawn-out fight common to organizing drives by showing overwhelming support for the union: 54 of 56 eligible teachers and counselors signed cards that were recognized by the state labor board.

"They also worked with UTLA to line up community and political leaders to encourage the school to immediately recognize their union, so they could move into bargaining.

"Nationally, organizing methods have varied, depending on employer opposition and tactics.

"Some employers have argued that they belong under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board, which governs the private sector. While some public sector workers can win union recognition simply by showing majority support through signed cards, private sector workers usually have to go through an extra step of winning a worksite election. This gives the employer additional time to campaign against the union.

"Charter schools have generally been considered public entities—as they are primarily funded by taxpayer dollars—even though they are managed by private nonprofits or companies.

"Chicago’s Math and Science Academy appealed to the NLRB after teachers gained majority support on authorization cards that were recognized through the Illinois body that governs public sector workers.

"The NLRB took the boss’s side, ruling in December 2012 that the charter school was a government subcontractor and thus under its jurisdiction. While this ruling is specific to the Chicago school, it has the potential to set precedent elsewhere.

"A Philadelphia charter operator is following the Chicago example. Teachers at the New Media charter petitioned the state for recognition two years ago, to join the Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the AFT’s national organization for charter schools (it has chapters in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Michigan, and Massachusetts).

"But the charter pushed for an NLRB election. The two sides finally agreed to schedule a vote April 24.

"Many charters are still being organized under state labor relations boards, however, including Ivy Academia and others in California.

"Even in the private sector, of course, employers can voluntarily recognize a union—so the two sides can negotiate over the method of achieving recognition.

"In Chicago, UNO, a charter chain operated by a politically connected community and business leader, recently agreed to organizing ground rules with the AFT charter local. These include card-check recognition and neutrality while teachers decide whether to organize.

"A corruption scandal uncovered by a Chicago newspaper may have given UNO an incentive to avoid public conflict.

"Ivy Academia has had its own scandals: the school’s founders were recently found guilty of misappropriating $200,000 of public funds. They had stepped down from the school in 2010.

"Teachers and counselors at Ivy are looking forward to bargaining their first contract. They have reached out to parents to emphasize that unionizing is in the best interest of both teachers and students.

“'We have a really wonderful school,' said sixth-grade teacher Jaime Marks. 'This is going to increase the opportunities for students to be successful.'

What a "wonderful school" is, we weren't informed by Ms. Marks in this article.  The "opportunities for students to be successful" are moot, since we find as far as lower student test scores and teacher issues:

"According to a study done by Vanderbilt University, teachers in charter schools are 1.32 times more likely to leave teaching than a public school teacher.[113] Another 2004 study done by the Department of Education found that charter schools 'are less likely than traditional public schools to employ teachers meeting state certification standards.'[114] A national evaluation by Stanford University found that 83% of charter schools perform the same or worse than public schools ("

The Stanford Study:

"In 2009, the most authoritative study of charter schools was conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. The report is the first detailed national assessment of charter schools. It analyzed 70% of the nation's students attending charter schools and compared the academic progress of those students with that of demographically matched students in nearby public schools. The report found that 17% of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools; 46% showed no difference from public schools; and 37% were significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts. The authors of the report consider this a 'sobering' finding about the quality of charter schools in the U.S. Charter schools showed a significantly greater variation in quality as compared with the more standardized public schools with many falling below public school performances and a few exceeding them significantly. Results vary for various demographics with Black and Hispanic children not doing as well as they would in public schools, but with children from poverty backgrounds, students learning English, and brighter students doing better; average students do poorer. While the obvious solution to the widely varying quality of charter schools would be to close those that perform below the level of public schools, this is hard to accomplish in practice as even a poor school has its supporters.[51]

Looking at charter schools from the standpoint of student performance - and what other standard other than the profits to the investors in charger schools - they are a joke, and the teachers like Ms. Marks can be considered as nothing more than any other scab in the world of business, scabs who now want the protection of unionism and care nothing about the draining of resources from our public school system to line the pockets of investors all or warm the cockles of the hearts of Conservatives all over the country.

From another report:

"Charters can be divided into two broad groups: schools that are freestanding, and schools that are part of larger networks or chains. In 2007, about half of all network or chain charter schools were managed by for-profit companies. Just three years later, that figure had dropped to about 37 percent, according to the most recent data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

"Some states, including New York, have banned for-profit companies from running charter schools. In other cases, companies like EdisonLearning, which used to focus primarily on managing schools, have shifted away from management after struggling to turn a profit or raising enough investment capital.

"The number of for-profit companies has declined modestly, and the number of schools they operate has hit a plateau, said Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University who studies charter schools. (At the same time, some of the schools’ enrollment continues to increase, Miron said, and the number of virtual schools is exploding.)

"Education leaders say there are two main reasons for the increased wariness toward for-profit operators: philosophical objections to mixing public education and profit, particularly in low-income communities, and mounting skepticism over their record in some cities and states.

“'The biases are deeply ingrained, especially in low-income neighborhoods where the notion of profit-making is not welcome and there’s this sense that competition and markets have not benefited these communities,' said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

"Rees said there’s nothing inherently wrong with for-profit operators. She pointed to the National Heritage Academies, based in Michigan, which she says has managed to expand relatively successfully; the network now operates about 75 schools in states including Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina, according to its website. Meanwhile, a number of nonprofit operators have performed abysmally.

“'The bottom line ought to be quality,' she said.

Advocacy groups find a role

"But in Tate County, where nearly two-thirds of public-school students live in poverty, the specter of for-profit management has been greeted mostly with skepticism.

“'When you draw off funding … it can cause some great concern. It’s basically taking money we don’t have,' said Steve Hale, a Democratic state senator from the county, who fielded residents’ concerns about for-profits last year. (Mississippi has only fully funded its K-12 system twice in the last decade.)

"In the end, bids from management companies came in two and three times higher than the state wanted to spend on Tate County’s schools. All were declined, and the state continues to oversee the Tate district through an appointed 'conservator'—-a public employee.

"But Hale’s concerns haven’t gone away, and two charter bills are circulating. One would allow for-profits; the other would ban them. For-profit education providers K-12 Inc., Connections Education and E2020 spent $250,000 on Mississippi lobbyists in 2011 and 2012, with more spending expected this year. That doesn’t include money from numerous advocacy groups (such as the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Mississippi Center for Public Policy) that have a track record of promoting school choice, including vouchers and charters."

Show me the money.

From an article at, "Charter Schools and The Profit Motive," submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger:

"In a 2010 New York Times article titled Charter Schools’ New Cheerleaders: Financiers, reporters Tripp Gabriel and Jennifer Medina wrote the following about what was going on in the state of New York:

"Wall Street has always put its money where its interests and beliefs lie. But it is far less common that so many financial heavyweights would adopt a social cause like charter schools and advance it with a laserlike focus in the political realm…

"Although the April 9 breakfast with Mr. Cuomo was not a formal fund-raiser, the hedge fund managers have been wielding their money to influence educational policy in Albany, particularly among Democrats, who control both the Senate and the Assembly but have historically been aligned with the teachers unions.

"They[hedge fund managers] have been contributing generously to lawmakers in hopes of creating a friendlier climate for charter schools. More immediately, they have raised a multimillion-dollar war chest to lobby this month for a bill to raise the maximum number of charter schools statewide to 460 from 200.

"That same year—2010—Juan Gonzalez believed that he had uncovered one of the reasons why hedge fund managers, some wealthy Americans, and the executives of some Wall Street banks had become such big proponents of charter schools and had gotten involved in their development. Gonzalez said the banks and other wealthy investors had been making 'windfall profits' by taking advantage of 'a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.' That little know tax break, the New Markets Tax Credit, can be so lucrative, Gonzalez said, 'that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.' He added that the tax break 'gives an enormous federal tax credit to banks and equity funds that invest in community projects in underserved communities, and it’s been used heavily now for the last several years for charter schools.'

"Gonzalez focused his research on the city of Albany—which, he wrote, 'boasts the state’s highest percentage of charter school enrollments.' He provided an explanation of how lucrative investments in building new charter schools can be:

"What happens is the investors who put up the money to build charter schools get to basically or virtually double their money in seven years through a thirty-nine percent tax credit from the federal government. In addition, this is a tax credit on money that they’re lending, so they’re also collecting interest on the loans as well as getting the thirty-nine percent tax credit. They piggy-back the tax credit on other kinds of federal tax credits like historic preservation or job creation or brownfields credits.

"The result is, you can put in ten million dollars and in seven years double your money. The problem is, that the charter schools end up paying in rents, the debt service on these loans and so now, a lot of the charter schools in Albany are straining paying their debt service–their rent has gone up from $170,000 to $500,000 in a year or–huge increases in their rents as they strain to pay off these loans, these construction loans. The rents are eating-up huge portions of their total cost. And, of course, the money is coming from the state.

"Brighter Choice Foundation

"According to Gonzalez, 'a nonprofit called the Brighter Choice Foundation had employed the New Markets Tax Credit to arrange private financing for five of the city’s nine charter schools.' By 2010, many of those charter schools were struggling to pay escalating rents, which were 'going toward the debt service that Brighter Choice incurred during construction.'

"Gonzalez gave examples of the escalating rents:

"The Henry Johnson Charter School saw the rent for its 31,000-square-foot building skyrocket from $170,000 in 2008 to $560,000 in 2009.

"The Albany Community School‘s went from from $195,000 to $350,000.

"Green Tech High Charter School rent rose from $443,000 to $487,000.

"Gonzalez reported that a number of Albany’s charter schools have fallen into debt to the Brighter Choice Foundation. He wondered why the schools’ financial problems hadn’t raised eyebrows with state regulators or caused concern for the charters’ school boards. He noted that the powerful charter school lobby had
so far successfully battled to prevent independent government audits of how its schools spend their state aid.' He added that 'key officers of Albany’s charter school boards are themselves board members, employees or former employees of the Brighter Choice Foundation or its affiliates.'

"Gonzalez said that the city of Albany is 'exhibit A in the web of potential conflicts that keep popping up in the charter school movement.' It appears Gonzalez is correct about Albany being just one example of what’s going on in the movement. Brighter Horizons isn’t the only 'foundation' or company making profits off of charter schools.

"...(T)he push, coming from Wall Street and the extremely wealthy, for this specific form of charter schools, for this specific way of funding them, is part of both short-term and long-term drives for profit that will accrue to the wealthiest while weakening the middle class."

For the complete article, click here -->, and for sources and further reading:

Juan Gonzalez: Big Banks Making a Bundle on New Construction as Schools Bear the Cost (Democracy Now!)

Albany charter cash cow: Big banks making a bundle on new construction as schools bear the cost (New York Daily News)

Show us the money: “Master Class” for private equity investors in public education (Parents across America)

“New market tax credits” and charter schools (Parents across America)

Cashing in on the charters: Petrino DiLeo exposes a new attempt by Wall Street to make money off our schools (Socialist Worker)

Charter school company with plans for McKinney is criticized (Susan Ohanian)

The big business of charter schools (Washington Post)

Evil Ed, inc: the Wall Street-charter school connection (Open Left)

Corporations Advise School Closings, While Private Charters Suck Public Schools Away: As charter proponents aim to cash in on major investment returns, Philly braces for a massive schools shakeup. (AlterNet)

Charter Schools’ New Cheerleaders: Financiers (New York Times)

For School Company, Issues of Money and Control (New York Times)

Charter Schools Outsource Education to Management Firms, With Mixed Results (Pro Publica)

Education: follow the money (Daily Kos)

Wall Street Hearts Charter Schools, Gets Rich Off Them (FireDogLake)

Wall Street Behind Charter School Push (Huffington Post)

It's all about the money.


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