Teachers' Union Rolls Out Hoary Excuse To Oppose More Charter Schools

If you're looking for a laugh, go on the website of the United Federation of Teachers, the union that is leading the fight against charter schools, whose reading and math scores are 15 to 20 points better than traditional schools.

The union just went on the air with an ad blasting "for-profit charter school management companies" for playing politics in Albany, where the State Senate passed a bill yesterday authorizing 260 new charter schools. The ad says these companies are "more interested in making money and ducking accountability than fighting for our kids."

The latest press release on the UFT website, however, announces with great fanfare that on January 13, the NYC Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industries (AECI) in the Bronx became one of a handful of charters across the state that voted to be represented by the union. The press release notes that AECI is run by "Victory Schools, a for-profit educational management company."

In fact, Victory is, by far, the biggest for-profit charter company in New York, with nine of the 15 for-profit schools in the state, and UFT just cut a deal with them.

For-profit schools are a laughable canard the UFT is trying to use to inflame the debate. Only 15 of the 175 charters are for-profit; the rest are all nonprofits. Almost all of the schools are nonunion, and their starkly successful test scores have parents lining up by the tens of thousands to get their kids in them. The UFT has argued that the schools have fewer special-needs kids, so the Senate bill tried to equalize those numbers. Instead of satisfying the union, the special-needs reform only forced the UFT to come up with a new excuse, and they've latched onto the for-profit alibi.

The union is going nuts because Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson pushed a schools bill through yesterday that the union didn't write, and a majority of Democrats joined an overwhelming majority of Republicans to pass it.

The UFT commercial also claims that "we should all be working to block cuts to our public schools," instead of playing charter school politics -- but the UFT's charter opposition is standing in the way of the state competing for $700 million in federal "Race to the Top" funding, a new approach designed by the Obama administration, which strongly supports charters.

State and city education department officials tell the Voice that this funding would certainly be used in part to finance programs that employ teachers, some of whom might be among the laid-off if budget cuts occur. Race to the Top is not like recent stimulus funding, which was directly used to prevent layoffs, but it can counteract some of the effect of layoffs by creating new job opportunities for teachers.

Oddly, the UFT is against that, and is using every ounce of its considerable muscle to derail the state's June application, just as it did back in January, when the first round of Race to the Top funding occurred. Because of its charter and other deficiencies, New York came in 15th of 16 applications then.

An Update: From Department of Education spokesman David Cantor: "Race to the Top can serve as a revenue stream for districts trying to get good teachers into schools and subjects that are hardest to staff. If New York wins, RTT will help us pay to do that. It's hard to understand opposition to funding that moves teachers into schools where they're needed at a time when teaching jobs are being threatened."

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