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Advocating for Transparency, Accountability and Equal Access

Let's be clear about charter schools.

CTA supports all public educators, whether they work at traditional or charter schools, and believes all students deserve a quality education. Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayer money. But many don’t hold themselves to the same standards as traditional public schools. This has led to severe problems at taxpayer, educator and student expense. CTA is working to address these issues through legislation — and unionization.

Problem: Solution:
Charter schools are not subject to oversight or transparency. This means they are not accountable and can operate in secret, which can lead to waste, fraud and abuse. AB 1478, by Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), makes governance of charter schools transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who fund them. It would make charter schools subject to the Brown Act, requiring open meetings; the Public Records Act, requiring open books; and two laws preventing conflict of interest. It prohibits charter school board members and their immediate family from financially benefiting from their schools.
Charter schools can cherry-pick students. This denies equal access to all students. It can leave school districts with a larger percentage of kids with high needs, and because Average Daily Attendance funds follow students to charter schools, a smaller amount of money to serve them. AB 1360, by Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), prohibits discriminatory admissions and enrollment practices and ensures due process in pupil discipline. Charters would be required to provide fair access to all students regardless of ZIP code, socioeconomic status, race, grades or native language. It clarifies that schools cannot weed out students with special needs, require parental volunteer hours as criteria for admissions, and must comply with federal and state constitutional due process regarding suspension and expulsion.
Charter school petitions are often approved by entities far removed from local school districts and communities. This means local funding and educational objectives are often ignored or dismissed. SB 808, by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), legislates local control of charter schools. It requires that all charter school petitions be approved by the school board of the school district in which they are located. An appeal of a charter school denial would be allowed by a county board of education only if the district committed a procedural violation in reviewing the petition — in which case the county board would remand the petition to the school district for reconsideration. (Charter schools operating outside the district in which they are based could continue operating until the date on which renewal is required — and then go before the local school district’s board.) The bill also allows a school board to deny a charter petition if granting a charter would impose financial hardship on the district.
Educators at non-union charter schools often have no say in decision-making, and can be hired and fired at will. These educators have the right to unionize. Approximately 250 of California’s charter schools are unionized, and CTA proudly represents more than 7,300 charter educators.

The Union Makes Education Strong

Sayrs Morris saw a dramatic difference at Ballington Academy for the Arts and Sciences in El Centro after unionization in 2012. Before unionizing, educators were afraid to speak up for their students and feared being fired; high turnover had a big impact on student learning; and pay and benefits were below what teachers received in surrounding areas.

Charter_Sayrs Morris SH
Sayrs Morris

After educators formed the Ballington Educators Association, things improved, says Morris. Teachers received a significant raise, and turnover decreased. The school hired an art teacher and opened a science lab, which teachers had requested for years.

“Once we didn’t have to worry about losing our jobs as at-will employees, we were able to advocate for our students and for ourselves,” adds Morris, now a teacher in Brawley and a Brawley Elementary Teachers Association member. “CTA helps teachers do that.”

Charter school educators such as Morris love teaching, and many strongly believe in their school’s potential. But several recent trends threaten charter school stability and student success.

When small schools grow into charter management organizations (CMOs) with multiple campuses, decisions once made at the school level are now made at CMO headquarters. As a result, many teachers feel they don’t have a voice in policies affecting students and their profession.

The heavy workload, compounded by a high cost of living and low pay, means high educator turnover and burnout are real problems.

To address these trends, charter educators are unionizing to have a stronger voice in important decisions, to support initiatives that lower teacher turnover, and to build stable school communities their students deserve.

CTA is currently working on first contract campaigns with many charter schools, including Livermore Valley Charter School, iQ Academy California, Island Union Elementary in Lemoore, and St. Hope Public Schools in Sacramento.

“Teacher voice through union power has pushed our CMO to be more transparent, open and accountable,” says Angel Maldonado, president of Asociación de Maestros Unidos, the union for Green Dot Public Schools California. “Being unionized guarantees educators respect, fair treatment, and a say in what is best for our students. It lets our members feel safe in advocating for our students.”

For information about unionizing: cta.org/charterschools.


Navigation

Follow the links below to see the other parts of this feature story.

Let’s Be Clear About Charter Schools
Helix Charter: Transparency Keeps Things Real
K12: Not Making the Grade
Alliance: Organizing to Have a Say
Rocketship: Failing Their Students, Educators
Livermore: A Cautionary Tale
Celerity: The Opposite of Austerity
Follow the Money
Advocating for Transparency, Accountability and Equal Access

 

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