On education policy, appeasement is about as ineffective as it is in foreign affairs. Many proponents of school choice, especially Democrats, have tried to appease teachers unions by limiting their support to charter schools while opposing private school vouchers. They hope that by sacrificing vouchers, the unions will spare charter schools from political destruction.
But these reformers are starting to learn that appeasement on vouchers only whets union's appetites for eliminating all meaningful types of choice. With voucher programs facing termination in Washington, D.C., and heavy regulation in Milwaukee, the teachers unions have now set their sights on charter schools. Despite their proclamations about supporting charters, the actions of unions and their allies in state and national politics belie their rhetoric.
In New York, for example, the unions have backed a new budget that effectively cuts $51.5 million from charter-school funding, even as district-school spending can continue to increase thanks to local taxes and stimulus money that the charters lack. New York charters already receive less money per pupil than their district school counterparts; now they will receive even less.
Unions are also seeking to strangle charter schools with red tape. New York already has the "card check" unionization procedure for teachers that replaces secret ballots with public arm-twisting. And the teachers unions appear to have collected enough cards to unionize the teachers at two highly successful charter schools in New York City. If unions force charters to enter into collective bargaining, one can only imagine how those schools will be able to maintain the flexible work rules that allow them to succeed.
Matt Ladner, a researcher at Arizona's Goldwater Institute, envisioned what charters burdened with a lengthy union contract might look like on my blog: "Need to change a light bulb in your classroom? Page 844, paragraph five clearly states that you must call a union electrician. You kids sit quietly with your heads down in the dark until he arrives. It will be any day now."
The highest quality studies have consistently shown that students learn more in charter schools. In New York City, Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby found that students accepted by lottery to charter schools were significantly outpacing the academic progress of their peers who lost the lottery and were forced to return to district schools.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have given speeches promoting charter schools. Despite their talk, charter spending constituted less than one-quarter of 1 percent of education spending in the stimulus package. And the Obama administration has done union bidding by killing the D.C. voucher program. They did this in the face of solid evidence of academic progress for the voucher students, and despite their stated commitment to do "what works for kids" regardless of ideology.
Vouchers made the world safe for charters by drawing union fire. But now that the unions have the voucher threat under control, charters are in trouble. It's time for reformers to increase pressure on politicians bending to the will of the unions and close the new education gap--the one between what Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan say about education and what they do.