A dispute over pay and class size in Chicago boiled over into the nation’s first charter school strike this month, raising questions about how teachers’ unions, going forward, will reconcile their longheld opposition to charters with their need to pick up more dues-paying members.
The historic walkout—and the concessions won by the Chicago Teachers Union on behalf of the striking charter school teachers—was welcome news for unions, which are predicted to potentially shed substantial members and revenue after the fateful U.S. Supreme Court Janus decision earlier this year.
Soon after the strike started, people began asking whether cracks were starting to show in the charter movement, the first viable public alternative—and challenge—to traditional public schools. For so long the charter movement has steadily expanded in many American cities, propelled by some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists.
The Chicago teachers’ strike has been largely cast in the media as a major symbolic win for teachers’ unions and a warning sign for charter schools and their supporters.
But there are equally fraught—if less examined—questions facing unions as they simultaneously decry charters as the tools of billionaires trying to privatize public education and encourage charter teachers to join their ranks. A growing unionized workforce in the charter sector may very well require changes from teachers’ unions as well as charter schools.
Anti-Charter Policy Pushes
Unions have longed positioned themselves as the defenders of traditional public schools, and have used their considerable political and financial clout to stymie charters. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all new charter schools. Elsewhere, unions have lobbied to block additional state funding for charter schools, backed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of charter schools, campaigned to keep caps on the number of charter schools allowed to open, and called for bans on charter management groups and companies…
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The Post Salon co-sponsored a community dialogue on schools Sunday, Dec. 9. along with Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN), Educators for Democratic Schools, the New McClymonds Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee of Parents and Education.
Speaking at the meeting were Oakland teachers, parents and community leaders concerned about low teacher salaries, upcoming budget cuts and the threat of closing schools and selling or leasing the campuses to charter schools.
Mike Hutchinson from OPEN said, “There’s only one way to stop this. That’s to organize.” And he presented information to indicate that the district is not really in a deficit. Taylor Wallace explained why the state does not have Black and Latino teachers and called for changing this serious situation. Oakland teacher Megan Bumpus represented the Oakland Education Association and explained the teachers’ struggle with the school district.
Among ideas presented at the Salon was a brief draft program that includes demands on the State of California, which bears much of the responsibility for Oakland’s problems.
While the district may be guilty of misspending, it is the State of California that is responsible for funding and is depriving the public schools of the money they need to serve the needs of Oakland children.
And it is the State that decides who is allowed to teach and creates obstacles that keep some of the best young teachers out of the classroom.
More than 100 teachers, parents and community members attended a community assembly Sunday, Dec. 9 to discuss the fight for a living wage for teachers and other school employees and “for schools our students deserve.” Photo by Ken Epstein.
At the end of the dialogue, participants adopted a motion to hold a press conference at the State Building in January.
Draft of a People’s Program:
1. No public school closings. Closing schools does not save money. It hurts kids and neighborhoods.
2. No sale of public property. A major element of privatization is selling off the legacy of publicly owned property and institutions left to us by earlier generations of Oaklanders.
3. No budget cuts to the schools. California is one of the richest economies in the world. It has a budget surplus, a Democratic majority in the legislature, and the capacity to fully fund schools.
4. End the teacher shortage and the lack of Black, Latino, indigenous and Asian teachers by eliminating such barriers as multiple standardized tests and multiple fees and by reforming the non-elected, unrepresentative State Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
5. Rescind the remainder of the debt imposed on Oakland by the State legislature 15 years ago and spent by state-appointed administrators without input from Oakland residents
6. A living wage for all school employees. A first-year teacher, a custodian, a school secretary should all be able to live in the city where they work, if they wish to do so. That’s a “community school.”
7. End the discrimination against schools below the 580 freeway.
8. FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team) out of Oakland. Democratic control of our school budget and school governance.
9. Open the books of the Ed Fund, which was created by non-elected State Administrators and does not provide transparency.
10. Reduce class sizes, standardized testing, test prep, age-inappropriate expectations, unnecessary bureaucracy, and mid-year consolidations.
Engage parents and teachers in a collaborative recreation of special education and the education of immigrant and emergent bilingual students.
If you have thoughts or comments on this draft program, send an email to Salonpost02@gmail.com
Don’t miss Educators Appreciation Day at Mystic Seaport Museum on October 20! CEA members and their families (up to four people total with teacher ID) will receive free Mystic Seaport Museum admission.
Don’t miss this special opportunity to explore the museum and learn more about the seaport’s educational programs and classroom connections. Education Department staff will be on hand to discuss program offerings and answer questions. In addition to the museum’s regular activities, there will be a special agenda of activities just for educators and their families.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 case barred mandatory “agency fees,” dealing a telling financial blow to teachers’ unions. Whether this is a death blow or a turning point will be determined by the vision and persuasiveness of union leaders. It’s a classic crisis that presents both peril and opportunity.
The perils are obvious. The predicted loss of revenue will mean diminished capacity for the unions and will likely translate into diminished influence and power at the federal, state, and local levels as well as within the Democratic Party. Teachers’ unions have been a potent force in all of these quarters. In the eyes of some, the unions have been a regressive, conservative (as in status quo-oriented), anti-reform force in the field. In the eyes of most of their members and some of the public, they have done an admirable job of standing up for teachers individually and collectively, bringing the voice and expertise of practitioners to the policy table, and assuring fair, middle-class compensation for members.
There has never been any doubt that teachers need a voice and protection in the education sector. Teaching has long been an exploited, overworked, and undercompensated field. The advent of teachers’ associations in the 20th century signaled an end to some of the most egregious violations of fair treatment by education managers. The unions stood tall and insisted on fairness and equity. Even today in states where unions have already been disempowered by “right to work” state laws that prohibit unions from charging fees from nonmembers, teachers have taken to the streets. In places like West Virginia and Oklahoma, teachers have organized outside of conventional unions in “wildcat Facebook” fashion and have become a potent, successful movement for fair compensation and better funding for schools.
“There has never been any doubt that teachers need a voice and protection in the education sector.”
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Is cash-strapped HISD decreasing teacher salaries for the upcoming school year? That’s that claim one teacher is making in a viral Facebook post that’s racked up more than 18,000 views and 700 shares.
Victor Treviño III, the teacher behind the video, feels like the current fight over teacher pay is déjà vu of a similar battle in 2016.
Treviño says he’s most upset the plan’s reportedly been in the works since March, but he only recently found out about it after being tipped off by a concerned HISD employee.
“Obviously teachers, we don’t get into this profession to become millionaires, but at the same time, we don’t want to be undervalued. We don’t want to be exploited,” said Treviño, who’s taught at Austin High School in southeast Houston for 11 years.
In a now-viral video, Treviño warns the district is planning to lower teachers’ expected salaries in the upcoming school year, while at the same time, he says, adding high-level, high salary administration jobs.
“If you really care about students’ achievement, we need to be able to attract and retain the most highly qualified teachers in those classrooms,” said Treviño, who wants HISD to scrap the idea and also begin a new superintendent search.
“That draft of the salary schedule freezes salaries at their current level,” said Andy Dewey, Executive Vice President of the Houston Federation of Teachers, the union for HISD teachers. “Nobody would get less money next year.”
However, Dewey says if that draft proposal is adopted, those employees will not make what they expected to make based on the current salary schedule.
“That’s where Victor is saying the pay cut is coming from, the fact that they are not getting the amount of money that was promised them for next year,” Dewey said.
Dewey says if the board approves freezing salaries, that change would come after the July 13 deadline for teachers to resign and potentially find higher-paying jobs elsewhere.
“Frankly, I believe if HISD tries to do that after the resignation date, they’ll be in breach of contract,” he said.
Dewey says union officials will meet with district higher-ups on Aug. 2 during their monthly consultation. He hopes officials will back off the proposal.
KHOU requested an interview with HISD officials Thursday and emailed several questions, including whether the draft proposal was still under consideration and how long it’s been in the works. In response, HISD sent the following statement:
“Teachers will not see a pay decrease in their salaries for the 2018-2019 school year.”
Duncan, Okla.— Few educators here say they want a statewide teacher strike to happen. And yet there’s overwhelming agreement from educators that it’s the only way forward.
Union leaders have given the Oklahoma state legislature an April 1 deadline to pass a funding package that includes a $10,000 pay raise over three years for teachers and a $200 million boost to public schools. If that doesn’t happen, teachers across the state will walk out of their classrooms, and will not return until they get what they’re asking for, union officials pledge.
“I don’t like that [a walkout] seems to be the only course of action—I think if there was something else, we would all jump on that, but I just think we all feel at a loss,” said Kara Stoltenberg, a high school English teacher in Norman, Okla., who also works at a clothing store to help pay her bills. “It’s so disheartening. … I want to believe the best in people, I want to be optimistic. It just feels like with one thing after another, that hope is being crushed.”
Oklahoma’s shutdown proposal came on the heels of the nearly two-week-long teacher strike in West Virginia, which concluded when the legislature there passed a bill giving all public employees a 5 percent pay raise. After that stunning victory, teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona began to ask: “What if we did that here?”
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What should teachers’ unions look like 20 years from now?
Teachers unions are under attack and, in fact, they might be entering their most perilous time in decades. At the same time, as teachers in West Virginia have shown us, good organizing can always find a way forward.
This seems like a good time to consider what our unions could and should look like twenty years from now.
Today’s contributors are Brian Guerrero, Nikki Milevsky, David Fisher, John Borsos, Jennifer Thomas, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and Shannan Brown. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Jennifer, Brian, Nikki and David on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
Readers might also be interested in two resource collections I’ve developed:
Brian Guerrero is a Teacher on Special Assignment for the Lennox School District in Lennox, California, president of the local Lennox Teachers Association, and a member of the Instructional Leadership Corps, a collaboration among the California Teachers Association, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, and the National Board Resource Center at Stanford:
Teachers unions are, at their core, Labor Organizations. This is true today and it will be true twenty years from now. We negotiate contracts and working conditions, salaries, and benefits, on behalf of and at the direction of our members. We grieve contract violations and make sure members are fairly represented and receive due process. We safeguard that teaching remains a viable, dignified, and desirable profession and that teachers have a say in decisions that impact their classrooms and students. We are the collective voice of teachers and other educators, and students and schools are better for the environment we help create…
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