AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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AFT Resolutions

CHARTER SCHOOLS

WHEREAS, public schools should continue to be the base wherein research, innovation, and improvement of teaching and learning are centered; and

WHEREAS, the original intent of charter schools was to create within the public school sector incubators for school reform that were motivated by legitimate educational and pedagogical objectives and maintained; and

WHEREAS, at the same time that increased standards and accountability are taking hold in public schools, many states are adopting laws that exempt charter schools from state standards, state assessments, and state requirements for public reporting; and

WHEREAS, charter schools must not become a device for undermining public schools, for profit-making schemes, for privatization, for backdoor promotion of vouchers, for promoting an anti-public education and anti-government agenda, or for sabotaging the collective bargaining rights of school staff; and

WHEREAS, charter schools must not be used as a vehicle to promote racial, ethnic, ideological, economic or other segregated types of schools nor should they be vehicles to siphon off high-performing able students from other public schools; and

WHEREAS, charter schools should be approved by local school boards (with provision for appeals when charter applications are rejected) and become part of a menu of educational options available to parents, students and educators within local school districts (for example, a charter might be designed to provide an appropriate alternative placement for severely disruptive students who are removed from the regular classroom):

RESOLVED, that the AFT fight to ensure that state charter school laws meet the following criteria:

  • Charter schools must be tuition free, not-for-profit, and must not discriminate against particular student populations;

The AFT is disturbed by the growing evidence that a number of charter schools are operated by for-profit companies. In particular, we are troubled by the increasing number of "cookie-cutter" chain schools that are not at all innovative, have little or no evidence to demonstrate their effectiveness, and are divorced from the control of parents and the local community.

In addition, reports from states across the country indicate that special-needs students and students with limited-English proficiency are underserved by charter schools. While some charter schools focus exclusively on special student populations, others discourage attendance by students who are difficult or costly to educate. Furthermore, funding formulas in many state charter laws provide financial disincentives for schools to serve special needs students.

  • Charter schools must be required to meet or exceed the same academic standards that apply to all other public schools;

In theory, charter schools are granted autonomy from many state and local regulations in return for greater responsiveness and increased accountability for academic performance. Accountability remains a major problem in jurisdictions that regard statewide academic standards as just another disposable regulation. Eighteen states either release charter schools from meeting state standards or allow charter school students to avoid taking state assessments.

  • Charter schools must meet the same assessment requirements as other public schools;

Although state achievement tests are imperfect, it is next to impossible to compare the performance of charters and similar public schools without the use of a common measure. Other performance measures should be employed for charter and district schools alike. But it remains essential that all students be measured by the same instruments.

  • Charter schools must be required to make information available to parents and to the public;

There is no accountability without full disclosure of information about both the finances and academic progress of the charter school. While in theory, charter schools receive greater autonomy for greater accountability, few laws require the types of information needed to determine the relative success of such schools. As public entities supported by taxpayer dollars, charter schools must be subject to the same open meeting, conflict-of-interest and "sunshine" (or freedom of information) laws that apply to all other public agencies.

Financial accountability is also a problem for charter schools. Most charter schools that have been closed were targeted because of fiscal mismanagement or fraud. Where charter school administrators are required to report income and expenditures in a uniform manner with other public schools, financial problems are much easier for monitors to catch and correct. These data should be reported to state departments of education, not just to the appropriate chartering authority.

  • Charter schools must be required to hire fully certified teachers;

Teacher quality is essential for student success. Thus, state laws that release charter schools from state certification requirements act to undermine the potential of these schools. Indeed, some managers seem to regard their ability to staff charter schools with novice and unqualified teachers as an effective means of cost containment. The mobility of both students and staff at such schools tends to be high, while student achievement tends to be mediocre or low.

At a minimum, charter school laws should require that charter school teachers have the appropriate certification. Research indicates that students need teachers who have both deep knowledge of academic content and the knowledge and skill to effectively deliver instruction.

  • Charter school employees must be free to form and be represented by organizations of their own choosing;

The record regarding the collective bargaining rights of charter school employees is mixed. Eight states protect the collective bargaining rights of charter school staff, allowing them to join existing bargaining units in the district; ten states forbid this membership, but allow charter employees to petition to bargain as a separate unit; six other states allow the transfer of collective bargaining rights to employees of public schools that convert to charter status but require new charters to form separate bargaining units; nine states prohibit collective bargaining; one state allows employer-employee bargaining but does not extend the protection of the law governing all other public employees; while the laws in the remaining states are silent on the issue. In short, most states prevent charter school employees from joining the same organizations and enjoying the same protections as all other school employees in their districts. Few charter school employees have been able to form alternative organizations. Many charter school employees, however, want and need to be represented.

  • Funding formulas must not have an adverse financial impact on existing public schools;

The potential for charter schools to act as a financial drain on district schools is a matter of urgent concern. In many states, the funding formula for charter schools does not rely on additional resources but on shifting funds from students’ home districts. In several instances, the opening of new charter schools has produced a significant number of transfers from area public schools, with funding following the student. When some of these charters fail to meet expectations, however, students make a quick return to their home schools. Too often, the funding does not follow or doesn’t follow quickly enough for the receiving school to meet the needs of the returning students. This, plus the fact that in some cases charters get more funding than other public schools, has resulted in cuts to programs and services to children left in the public schools:

RESOLVED, that the AFT continue to assist affiliates in identifying and implementing effective strategies for improving education and raising student achievement, within the context of the public schools; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT publicize examples of programs supported by local affiliates that realize the promise of excellence and innovation within public schools; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT oppose legislation to establish charter schools that are not held to the same or higher standards as other public schools, are not held accountable for results, or do not meet AFT criteria; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT assist local and state federations in developing criteria to review charter school applications to ensure that such schools are answerable to parents and the public, and work to complement, not undermine, area public schools; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT urge states to provide adequate financial and technical resources for proper monitoring and oversight of charter schools, to ensure that charter school funding does not discriminate against special needs students, revenues, expenditures and pupil characteristics are reported to the state in a uniform manner, charter schools are subject to state open meeting, conflict-of-interest and sunshine laws, and all assets purchased with public funds remain within the public domain; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT assist state and local affiliates in organizing charter school employees when needed; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT assist state and local affiliates in monitoring charter schools and reporting accurate results to the public; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT develop a report to review the status of charter schools by the 2002 convention; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT affirm its principled opposition to the creation of charter schools whenever such schools utilize overt or covert attempts to use public funds to segregate from the general population of students "affinity groups" based on such characteristics as ideology, class or political orientation, thus weakening the critical democratizing function of the public schools.


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