From U.S. News & World Report
By Lauren Camera
July 5, 2017
The 3-million member National Education Association is taking a new tack when it comes to charter schools, adopting a policy statement Tuesday aimed at limiting charter school growth and increasing accountability on the sector.
NEA officials hailed the decision as a “fundamental shift” in the union’s stance on charter schools.
“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed of schools in which they would be free to innovate, unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said Tuesday in a statement.
“Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes student success, undermines public education and harms communities,” she said. “This policy draws a clear line between charters that serve to improve public education and those that do not.”
More than 7,000 NEA delegates convened in Boston for the union’s annual meeting over the last week, where leaders and delegates voted on and outlined strategies concerning various education policies.
Eskelsen Garcia had appointed a 21-member charter school task force in September 2016 to rethink the union’s stance when it comes to charter schools. The NEA last adopted a charter school policy in 2001.
The new policy statement emphasizes that charter schools much prove they are necessary to meet the needs of students. Further, they must be authorized by the local school board, the policy states, and the school board must constantly monitor performance of the charter schools to ensure accountability and also help public schools adopt any successful strategies.
The policy also underscores that charter schools must comply with the same rules and regulations as public schools, including open meetings, public records laws, prohibitions against for-profit operations and the same civil rights, employment, labor, health and safety laws and staff qualification and certification requirements as public schools. Charter schools usually have greater autonomy over hiring and firing practices than traditional public schools.
The policy statement also condemns virtual charter schools, which have recently come under fire for poor student performance.
“If we’re serious about every child’s future, let’s get serious about doing what works,” NEA vice president Becky Pringle said in a statement. “We oppose any charter schools that do not meet the criteria because they fall short of our nation’s responsibility to provide great public schools for every student in America.”
The adoption of the new charter policy comes at a time when the Trump administration is pushing a school choice agenda – both public and private school choice. The president has promised to funnel $20 billion in federal funding to school choice policies, and his recent budget proposal includes a $168 million boost for charters, as well a $1 billion increase in Title I funding for poor students in school districts that allow them to use the money at the public school of their choice, which could include charter schools.
Eskelsen Garcia, in particular, has been a harsh critic of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and helped generate the widespread protest against her nomination.
In an address to the NEA conference July 2 she continued beating that drum.
“Let me say this to all of you as clearly as I can, so that even if you disagree with me, you understand what is in my heart: I will not allow the National Education Association to be used by Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos,” she said. “I do not trust their motives. I do not believe their alternative facts. I see no reason to assume they will do what is best for our students and their families. There will be no photo-op.”
“We will find common ground with many Republicans and many Democrats on many issues," she continued. "We will not find common ground with an administration that is cruel and callous to our children and their families. And I don’t just judge them by their words; I judge them by their actions.”
The NEA’s adoption of the new policy also comes as charter school leaders are trying to navigate a new, thorny political reality: opposing much of the Trump administration’s agenda despite that agenda including the expansion of charter schools.
Some have speculated that DeVos’ penchant for private school choice could potentially align teachers unions and the charter school community in a quest to keep students in the public school system.
The president’s budget, for example, included $250 million for a private school voucher program and the administration is preparing a scholarship tax credit proposal, both of which would allow students to enroll in private schools.
To be sure, some charter school advocates agree with the NEA’s new stance, and the NEA and the 1.6-million member American Federation of Teacher have been increasingly involved in helping some charter school teachers unionize.
“Profiteers have been stripping away resources for almost two decades by cutting corners and treating children as commodities,” Dave Daly, a high school English teacher at Old Redford Academy, a charter school in Detroit, and a member of the NEA’s charter school task force, said in a statement.
“This policy is the first step to arm our communities and our educational professionals with the tools and voice we all need to ensure a better future for our youth.”
It’s unclear at this point, however, especially considering the NEA’s newly minted charter policy, how the two camps will interact with each other.