School Choice & Charters

Calif. Deal on Charter Unionization Moves Forward

By Jessica L. Sandham — June 16, 1999 3 min read

Teachers’ union officials in California have backed away from their push to mandate collective bargaining for charter school employees. Instead, they have thrown their support behind compromise legislation that would formalize the employees’ rights to seek union representation or negotiate their own contracts.

The bill would largely uphold the way charter schools in California already do business: About half the state’s 156 charter schools use collective bargaining, while the remaining schools choose to negotiate independently with their employees. The measure passed the Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, by a vote of 55-18 on June 4. The Senate is expected to take it up in the coming weeks.

After mobilizing to fight an earlier version of the legislation that would have required that all charter school employees abide by contracts negotiated by unions’ local collective-bargaining units, advocates for the independently operated public schools say they are relieved. (“Bill Would Order Collective Bargaining in Calif. Charters,” May 19, 1999.)

“We have a very strong charter school law that really didn’t need fixing,” said Sue Bragato, the executive director of the California Network of Educational Charters. “But our hope is that we created something that the unions can live with, and that they’ll go away.”

Newfound Clout

One provision in the bill would require that charter schools officially declare to the state that they are public school employers, separate from their local districts, if they want freedom from collective-bargaining requirements. Such a designation would need to be made by March 31 of next year.

Union officials also said they were pleased with the compromise and emphasized that they are not foes of charter schools.

The California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, simply wanted to ensure that charter school employees are never denied the right to organize, said Michael Myslinski, a spokesman for the state union.

“Teachers in charter schools should be able to bargain collectively for the same rights and protection that regular teachers enjoy,” Mr. Myslinski said. “This assures that teachers have the right to organize.”

That charter advocates were able to strike an agreeable compromise with the powerful unions demonstrates their growing political clout, said Gerald C. Hayward, a co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, a think tank at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Continuing Challenges

Still, California’s charter school advocates continue to face legislative challenges. Late last week, lawmakers were debating a provision of the Senate’s version of the pending state budget bill that would effectively eliminate state funding for schools in which instruction is conducted primarily through distance learning or independent study.

If it were included in the final version of the budget legislation, the 44 charter schools that use such methods, many of which serve home-schooled students, “would all of the sudden, out of the blue, have to shut their doors,” said Dave Patterson, the director of government relations for the California charter school network.

“There is a lack of understanding about the value of these programs and a lack of understanding about how they work,” Mr. Patterson said.

The two Republican minority members of the six-person budget conference committee now considering the fiscal 2000 state budget have indicated that eliminating the provision is a top priority, said Michael Genest, the director of the Senate Republican Fiscal Office.

The Democrats on the committee “want to ensure that this is not opening the door to the abuses we have seen in independent study,” said Jai Sookprosert, an education consultant to the appropriations committee. Lawmakers are expected to reach an agreement on the budget language this week.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 16, 1999 edition of Education Week as Calif. Deal on Charter Unionization Moves Forward

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