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Will Unions Take Over Charter Public Schools?

An e-mail posted by a teachers’ union president in Minnesota grants some insight as to why unions have fought charter schools tooth-and-nail: the fear of losing union influence.

Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, sent an e-mail to public school teachers explaining why her union now authorizes charter schools and wants to “lead the way to take on the charter school movement.” The e-mail was posted on the educational blog Eduwonk.

“[I]t is also true that charter schools are not going away despite 20 years of protesting. Because of this, it is time to figure out how to bring our kidnapped idea back home so we can also stop the de-professionalization of teaching, the bleeding out of our unions and the miseducation of too many students. While new state laws are tightening up the approval process for charters and for authorizers, as well as the oversight of them both, charters continue to grow. It is time to ‘get in the game’ and make it ours.”

Nordgren’s e-mail goes on to discuss the loss of union influence among charter schools.

“This would ensure charters authorized by unions will: be high quality schools, monitored for progress, keep our union responsibilities and rights as an option, and make sure teachers are respected and have a voice in the schools in which they work.”

In the state of Minnesota, the teachers’ union was given the ability to authorize charter schools.

Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said he doubts this would be allowed in Michigan since only public institutions like school districts, community colleges and universities can authorize charter schools.

In Michigan, teachers at charter schools have chosen not to unionize – although there is nothing restricting them from doing so.

For example, Central Michigan Union is the authorizer of 56 charter schools. Gary Naeyaert, spokesman for The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University, said he’s aware of only one of the 56 schools that have unionized.

“It’s a different mindset,” Naeyaert said.

Naeyaert said public school districts are privatizing bus, janitorial and food services but won’t consider contracting for instructional services like charter schools have done.

“The real answer is the union won’t like it,” Naeyaert said.

Charter schools save in expenses when their teachers don’t unionize.

For example, one unionized charter school employee is Julie Kildee, director of Holly Academy. The charter school must pay 23.23 percent this school year of each employee’s payroll as part of their retirement contribution.  For Kildee, that means $22,975. By comparison, the charter school contributes between 8 to 10 percent for its non-union employees’ retirement.


See also:

Michigan Capitol Confidential Coverage of Charter Public Schools