November 15 2013
Vicki E. Alger
A new report from the California Charter Schools Association finds that:
This fall, California saw 104 new charter schools opening their doors at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, bringing the total number of charter schools in California to 1,130. Charter enrollment grew by an estimated 49,179 increase, or 10%, for a total of over 519,000 students in charters. And, California maintains its position as the state in the nation with the highest number of charter schools and charter school students. …
Despite this growth, an estimated 50,000 students remain on charter school waiting lists across the state for the 2013-14 school year. Such numbers clearly indicate that many more families would choose the charter public school option if there were sufficient space to serve them.
Since 1992 when California’s charter legislation was passed, the number of charter schools has grown from just 31 in 1994. On paper, California has one of the county’s best charter school laws (see here and here). Teachers unions, however, are working to stop the spread of charter schools because their teachers have more freedom over whether or not to unionize.
A recent effort was Assembly Bill 917, a union-backed measure to make opening new charter schools more difficult by requiring 50 percent of all school employees (namely Service Employees International Union members such as janitors, bus drivers, administrators, and cooks), not just teachers, to sign charter school conversion petitions.
California’s teachers’ unions are at a crossroads over how to handle their “charter school problem.” Roughly 15 percent of the state’s nearly 1,100 charter schools are unionized, but the effort to organize the independent public schools remains costly, time-consuming, and fraught with uncertainty. The schools themselves are popular with parents and many legislators. Though Governor Jerry Brown is a big fan of charters, he’s also friendly with the unions, and nobody knows for certain what he’ll sign or veto next.
Thankfully, Gov. Brown vetoed AB 917 last month. Yet this likely won’t be the last union-driven attempt to prevent students from enrolling in charter schools.