NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia convened an organizational national task force on charter schools to reconsider the union’s statement adopted by the Representative Assembly in Los Angeles 15 years ago.
The wheels of the NEA turn kind of slowly. The past 15 years have seen a lot of battles around charter schools. The NEA board of directors will consider the task force’s document at their next meeting.
In 2001, the last time the NEA took a national position on charters, there were around 2,100 charter schools operating in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Most were run by parent groups, nonprofit organizations and a few for-profit education companies. About a half million students attended them nationwide.
The landscape has radically changed.
Between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from 3.1 to 6.6 percent, and the total number of public charter schools increased from 3,000 to 6,500. In addition to increasing in number, charter schools have generally increased in enrollment size over the last decade. From 2003–04 to 2013–14, the percentages of charter schools with 300–499, 500–999, and 1,000 or more students each increased, while the percentage of charter schools with fewer than 300 students decreased. Similar patterns were observed from 2012–13 to 2013–14.
So there we were. It was September of 2016. Two months before the presidential election. We had fifteen years of the Department of Education run by pro-charter secretaries like Rod Paige, Maggie Spellings, Arne Duncan and now, perhaps worst of all, Betsy DeVos, and the NEA thinks it might have something new to say about charter schools.
The NEA’s main observation is that charters are no longer mom and pop shops and have become corporate managed and profit centers, threatening public neighborhood schools and public control of what should be a public institution.
The result of these efforts has been a massive and burgeoning sector of charter schools that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards as public schools. Frequently the resulting charters are operated expressly for-profit, or are nominally non-profit but managed or operated by for-profit entities. These charters are nothing like the original conception of charters as small incubators of innovation within school districts. Most importantly, the growth of charters has undermined local public schools and communities, without producing any overall increase in student learning and growth.
I can’t argue with that.
Some of us have been saying it for a decade and longer.
I assume the NEA board of directors will pass it.
And then what?
Will the NEA and President Eskelsen Garcia follow her friend Randi Weingarten in school tours and seek a seat at the table with Betsy DeVos?
Or will they fight like hell against the Department of Education and its Secretary which has become the Mother of All Bombs when it comes to public, secular, neighborhood schools?
One observation: The Illinois member of the NEA task force sits on the Illinois Charter Commission, which has the authority to overturn local school district decisions to deny charter applications and which we have been trying to get the legislature to disband.
One more observation. Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are not just charter advocates. Their other tool in the fight against neighborhood public schools is the voucher.
There is no mention of vouchers in this document.
I hope we don’t need to wait 15 years for it.