Thursday, February 12, 2009

Goldwater Institute: Making charter schools an endangered species

Clintby Clint Bolick
Charter schools--independent public schools operated by private entities that are free from many of the regulations that stifle creativity in regular public schools--have produced enormous academic gains in Arizona and across the country. But they are bracing for a plague that could destroy them: teacher unionization.

KIPPAt the national level, unions are pushing for a "card-check" system to enable them to organize without receiving a majority vote among employees in a secret ballot. Instead, a union will be created if a majority signs cards authorizing a union--a method ripe for coercive influence.

Federal law does not control state or local workplaces. So unions have joined their federal strategy with efforts to create card-check systems at the state level. Already they have succeeded in six states.

Charter schools are especially vulnerable. With less funding than other public schools, they often can't compete over salaries or benefits. They often require a longer working day. But it is precisely such flexibility that makes charter schools successful--and makes them an attractive place for talented teachers.

The threat is real. In New York, which has a card-check law, unions are organizing in the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools, which are among the nation's most-successful at teaching low-income youngsters. Restrictive union work rules and an us-versus-them mentality would destroy KIPP's effectiveness. The schools are fighting back, but under card-check they have few tools to resist unionization.

States can prevent card-check in public workplaces--and possibly in private-sector workplaces as well--by amending their constitutions to protect the right to secret ballot in the formation of unions so that workers can vote their conscience. Given the abysmal state of American K-12 education, it would be tragic to sacrifice some of our most effective schools at the altar of unions.
Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
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