NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Will Charter Teachers be Dragooned into Unions?

May 11, 1999

Teachers in California charter schools may be forced to join teachers' unions, whether they wish to or not. A union-backed bill before the California Assembly would require employees of charter schools to join the union in their district and accept the terms of contracts resulting from collective bargaining. What happens in California could well influence the course of charters nationwide.

Most astonishing is that even public school teachers are not required to be union members in California.

  • California has 156 charter schools with an enrollment of 50,275 students -- compared to public school enrollment of 5.54 million students.
  • In 1998, 52 percent of California's 4th-graders read below basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.
  • The average starting salary for charter school teachers there is $27,200 -- compared to $25,500 for teachers in public schools.
  • If the bill becomes law, incentive pay for teachers in charters could be scrapped in favor of union-set pay scales.

Critics see the proposed legislation as dangerous because it would wipe out the freedom of charters to experiment and innovate and place their teachers into the same bureaucratic straightjacket which has wrecked learning in many California public schools.

Dennis Mah, the director of a charter school in Sacramento, complains that in the area of hiring where union rules operate "there's rules and rules, and rules on top of the rules." Collective bargaining agreements can run to hundreds of pages, all of which are supported by many more pages of grievance procedures, which act like precedents.

In California, there are two types of charters. Some charters are former public schools which were converted. These often retain some union influence. Start-up charters, those without historic connections to public schools, typically aren't unionized and thus have greater latitude to innovate.

Source: Anna Bray Duff, "Unions Target Charter Schools," Investor's Business Daily, May 11, 1999.


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