NEA delegates vote to approve new policy on charter schools
The 7,000 delegates to the National Education Association Annual Meeting in Boston overwhelmingly approved a fundamental shift in policy by passing a new policy statement on charter schools.
The new NEA Policy Statement on Charter Schools will boost NEA’s forceful support of state and local efforts to limit charter growth and increase charter accountability, and slow the diversion of resources from neighborhood public schools to charters. Meanwhile, the policy allows the NEA to continue organizing charter school educators who want to provide all students, no matter where they live, with the opportunity for a great education, and are standing up for better, more accountable charter schools.
NEA last approved a charter school policy in 2001. Since then, the number of charter schools in the U.S. has risen dramatically and outstripped the ability of states and school districts to hold them accountable. The result has been a massive and burgeoning sector of charter schools that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards as public schools.
“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed of schools in which they would be free to innovate, unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes student success, undermines public education and harms communities. This policy draws a clear line between charters that serve to improve public education and those that do not.”
Too frequently charters are operated expressly for profit, or are nominally non-profit but managed or operated by for-profit entities. These charters have evolved far from the original concept of charters as small incubators of innovation. Most importantly, the growth of charters has undermined local public schools and communities, without producing any overall increase in student learning and growth.
“This policy is the first step to arm our communities and our educational professionals with the tools and voice we all need to ensure a better future for our youth,” said Dave Daly, a high school English teacher at Old Redford Academy, a charter school in Detroit, and a member of the NEA Task Force on Charter Schools, which recommended the new policy. “Profiteers have been stripping away resources for almost two decades by cutting corners and treating children as commodities. I want to thank NEA and its delegates for continuing to fight for educational equity for all and for recognizing that our students deserve better.”
The new policy statement lays out three criteria that charter schools must meet to provide students with the support and learning environments they deserve:
- Charter schools must be authorized and held accountable by the local school board as only a local, democratically accountable authorizing entity can ensure that a charter is actually needed to meet student needs in a way that other alternatives available to the district could not, and only a local authorizer can monitor charter performance on an ongoing basis to ensure accountability and spread charter innovations to other public schools.
- The charter school must demonstrate that it is necessary to meet the needs of the students in the district, and they must meet those needs in a manner that improves the local public school system.
- The charter school must comply with the same basic safeguards as other public schools. This includes open meetings and public records laws, prohibitions against for-profit operations or profiteering, and the same civil rights, employment, labor, health and safety laws and staff qualification and certification requirements as other public schools.
Charter schools that do not meet these criteria do more harm than good to students, neighborhood public schools, and the cause of public education.
The policy statement also points out, in particular, that virtual charter schools are never an appropriate part of the public education system as they cannot provide students with a well-rounded, complete educational experience.
The 21-member, broadly representative task force that recommended the policy was convened by Eskelsen Garcia in September 2016. Members recognized that the scale and impact of charter school growth meant that their task was not simply to tweak NEA’s 2001 Charter School Policy Statement, but to fundamentally rethink NEA policy on charter schools.
“What every child needs is a quality, well-equipped school right in his or her neighborhood, where he can learn, be inspired and thrive,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle. “If we’re serious about every child’s future, let’s get serious about doing what works. We oppose any charter schools that do not meet the criteria because they fall short of our nation’s responsibility to provide great public schools for every student in America.”