Charter policy statement gets NEA Board approval

The NEA Board of Directors voted unanimously in April to recommend the NEA Representative Assembly approve a new policy statement on charter schools this summer in Boston.

The new statement draws a line between charter schools that NEA will support and those it will not support. The four-page statement opens with: “The purpose of this policy statement is to make plain NEA’s opposition to the failed experiment of largely unaccountable privately managed charter schools while clarifying NEA’s continued support for those public charter schools that are authorized and held accountable by the local democratically elected school boards or their equivalent.”

Charter schools have grown enormously throughout the country since NEA last took a position on charter schools in 2001. During the past 16 years, the number of students who attend charter schools has grown from under 500,000 to more than 2.7 million—or nearly 6 percent of all the nation’s students. Some 44 states have charter school laws, but every state law is just a little bit different.

“We don’t want to completely say that there are no good charter schools,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Charters that are educator led, innovative, and a complement to their local public school system are likely to meet the criteria, she said.

Many charter schools are for-profit and without the same accountability standards as traditional public schools. According to the proposed NEA policy statement, charter schools should be non-sectarian, free, and accessible to every student, and their meetings and records should be open and transparent to the public.

NEA Vice President Becky Pringle said, “The task force was absolutely unanimous that all schools should comply with these safeguards. Public education must remain a public good.”

The task force did note that just because there are five times more charter schools today than there were in 2001 doesn’t mean that charters have improved public education in the United States.

“Over 80 independent and generally accepted studies … yield the consistent finding that, after controlling for student demographics, charter schools show test-score results at levels that are not meaningfully better or worse than district schools,” the charter school task force said in its report.

In addition, the task force noted that in the past 13 years, some 40 percent of charter schools in the country have closed. The charter schools that closed included students who are 45 percent African Americans, 22 percent Hispanics, and 52 percent free and reduced lunch recipients.

One other change in the proposal addresses whether NEA should organize the educators in charter schools and try to help them become NEA members. NEA would commit to assisting state affiliates that choose to organize charter schools in their own states.

Pringle said, “We have more power, influence, and strength to bring about the changes that we know need to happen to the system when we organize a charter school.”