Union lawsuit against charter schools: potentially risky for union?

January 7, 2013

On Friday morning, Steve Scher of KUOW Radio (NPR-Seattle) interviewed Mary Lindquist, president of the state teachers union (WEA), about the union’s lawsuit to block children’s access to voter-approved charter schools. Here is a part of their conversation (at 12:15):

Scher: About the lawsuit against the charter school amendment — if you try to have allies on both sides of the aisle (in the Legislature), you know there are people who look at the charter school effort as a way to look at the union’s power and maybe bring about some change in that power. Aren’t you just setting yourself up to be in a fight with the very same people you want to fund education fully if you go after the charter school amendment?

Lindquist: ...We are going to work with all legislators — legislators that are pro-charter schools and legislators who are against public sector unions — because our children deserve that.

Scher: Do you think that means an agreed-upon reduction in the union’ s influence on health care, on contracts, on pay, on seniority, on evaluation in order to get the larger funding issue settled?

Lindquist: No, I think the talk about the power of the union is perhaps exaggerated. The real power lies in the fact that the teachers and educators who work with our students every day are among the most respected members in our communities.... So I don’t think it is an issue of a big bad union, but about teachers being the most respected members of the community.

While President Lindquist’s modesty is charming, the union wields considerable power over education policy in Washington.

Her power is based on the WEA’s monopoly position within the system, and because union membership is mandatory for most public sector teachers. Teachers must devote $900 of their pay annually to the WEA. Each year the union, a private labor organization, receives about $33 million in budgeted education funds in the form of required dues. School districts must provide free bookkeeping and money collection services as well, and school officials are required to guarantee that funds are electronically transferred to union bank accounts each month.

Times have changed. The union appears to be out of step with Washington public opinion on charter schools. This change, for the first time in years, is raising questions about reducing the union’s power in setting school policy.

In one week the 2013 Legislative Session begins. Will the union’s loss of influence in the charter school debate translate to other losses in the Legislature? Will the union’s legal attack on charter schools prompt legislative attempts to weaken excessive union power? Frustrating the will of voters with lawsuits is not popular in the Legislature. It is certainly not popular with voters. Many of the Legislature’s elected representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, support giving children access to charter schools.

The National Education Association has issued a policy statement describing their support for charter schools, which you can find here. The American Federation of Teachers says this on their website: “The American Federation of Teachers strongly supports charter schools.”

The WEA remains the primary obstacle to education reform in Washington. The WEA led opposition to charter schools on three previous occasions, and was at the forefront of the recent “No” campaign, until its position was recently overruled by voters. WEA executives now say they plan to support a lawsuit against charter schools. The lawsuit will be funded by money taken from school teachers, many of whom likely voted for the law their union is trying to overturn.


Your contempt for public schools and our educators

Once again, Liv, you fail to understand the 180 degree difference between "Monopoly" and "Community". Monopoly has a very precise historical and legal definition. It's the antithesis of Community.

Are you pushing this obtuse, deceptive bit about public school "monopolies", in a deliberate attempt to confuse voters, hoping to get them to react with fear instead of evaluating with calm confidence?

Any suggestion equating a community's shared investment in a school---which belongs to everyone, regardless of income, education or status---with a privately owned enterprise that dominates virtually an entire market for an essential product or service, is both obtuse and malicious.

Charter schools blog

The charter school initiative did not pass because the public understands charter schools and its value or lack thereof to improve learning for students. It passed because a handful of billionaires spent nearly $12 million in a well-polished campaign, outspending opponents about 17 to 1. Don't delude yourself or your readers that the public "understands" charter schools. The charter school initiative was about power and money, not about education.

As to WEA, if you have any experience or knowledge of unions, you would know that the WEA is about the most weak, least militant union in Washington. Yes, their ability to coalesce 40,000 or so voices is present, but, again, don't delude yourself or your readers that the WEA reflects the opinion of every teacher, just like with any labor organization or professional association. WEA does more for protecting the interests of every child (not just the billionaires' kids) than any organization with the possible exception of the State PTA (who opposed the charter school initiative as well) than any other organization in the state.

I am a public school principal, and I support the work of the Washington Education Association. Not everything they do, but in my work I see WEA as a force to support and improve public education, not tear it down.

Ah, so (unconstitutional) charters ARE about busting unions

We all knew that one of the big driving forces behind charters is a desire by the owners and managers to bust unions, unions that have succeeded over the decades in giving us the eight hour day, health care, fare wages...and prohibited such things as child labor.
Of COURSE edu-business ("reform") wants to bust the union - add that to the digitization of education, the reliance on standardized test results for "accountability" and "evaluation," and there is much profit to be made. You can start to bring in TFA (Teach For Awhile) so you have a revolving door of low-cost, beginning teachers. You can add to the teacher's work day without paying them. You can get rid of their health care.
Your anti-teacher bias is showing.
Who cares what the citizens think about lawsuits? If a law in unconstitutional, it's unconsitutional. Others are looking at bringing suit against 1240 for some of the same reasons: The state puts power over public schools under its superintendent. It's a no-brainer.
Why don't you just come out and tell us that you want to bust the union, and that you don't care about breaking the law to do it?