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What Was the Indianapolis Teachers’ Union Thinking?

By Michele McNeil — November 09, 2007 1 min read
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One could really question the political strategy on the part of the Indianapolis teachers’ union after watching this.

At issue is the shocking loss of Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson , a Democrat, in Tuesday’s election, despite outspending Republican political newcomer, Greg Ballard, by 10-1. Peterson, who is a major champion of charter schools, is known nationally for working to expand options for students in Indianapolis Public Schools’ by authorizing 16 charter schools for the city. This growth had prompted IPS Superintendent Eugene White to call for a moratorium last year, declaring that the loss of students was draining money from the district and potentially forcing costly cuts.

According to the media report, many IPS teachers voted against Peterson because of his support for charter schools (which are public schools.) What’s interesting is that in voting against Peterson, a pro-union Democrat, these teachers voted for a little-known Republican who also supports charter schools but has shed little light on other parts of his education agenda.

Could these IPS teachers be forgetting the great victory they won back in 2001, made possible because charter school legislation passed? I haven’t, because I covered the legislative battle as a Statehouse reporter for The Indianapolis Star. To get legislative support to pass charter schools, legislators gave IPS teachers their collective bargaining rights back. Teachers lost those rights back in 1995 when a GOP-controlled legislature passed a sweeping accountability law designed to improve this struggling, urban district. It was a typical political trade-off: Republicans and other charter-school supporters got a new charter school law, while Democrats and the teachers’ union got IPS teachers their collective bargaining rights.

What’s more, Indiana’s charter school law is friendlier to teachers’ unions than a lot of other state’s laws. In Indiana charter schools, teachers can form a union or negotiate salaries independently. And any public schools that convert to charters must abide by existing union contracts.

I wonder what some Indianapolis teachers were thinking in voting for Republican Ballard, and what they’re in store for.