At a National Education Association convention in 1987, I was the floor manager for a new business item endorsing newly expanding magnet schools. Despite the strong support of then NEA President Mary Hatwood Futrell, the item lost because opponents successfully argued that magnet schools drained money and top students from neighborhood schools, creating a public school system of haves and have-nots.
Over time, however, the conversation started to change as thousands of magnet school teachers joined the NEA as magnets grew throughout the 80s. By 1989, the NEA had reversed course and started supporting these schools.
Thirty years later, magnet schools still often attract money and top students from neighborhood schools. In some communities, they may even have contributed to a divide between haves and have-nots in public schools. But teacher unions today don’t talk about these effects, and remain supportive of magnets.
Now, as teachers unions battle charter school supporters over language in the Democratic Party platform, and union organizing drives in public charter schools continue to get attention around the country, the question arises: Will the politics of charters follow the same course as magnet schools? Will teacher unions change from opposing to supporting charter schools if enough charter school teachers start paying union dues? If teacher unions become charter school enthusiasts, the Democratic Party will likely follow suit.
Evidence of how dues-paying teachers can impact a union’s charter school policies is emerging in California, where a growing number of charter school teachers are union members. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles teachers union filed a grievance against the LA school district on behalf of charter school teachers who are union members, demanding that the district pay these teachers’ retirement benefits.
The reasons for the union’s advocacy on behalf of charter school teachers are complex. But it’s worth noting that the union’s advocacy comes just weeks after the LA union released a paper arguing that charter schools are draining students and money from LA district schools. Continue Reading →