Unions Deploy Teacher Strikes to Stop School Choice

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March 26, 2020

By Hayley Sledge

Chicago teachers unions expressed their opposition to charter schools in 2019 by demanding the continuation of a moratorium on additional charter schools in the city.

Teacher strikes in Chicago and Los Angeles were two of the largest union actions in 2019, among an increasing number of protests by educators in government schools that included demands for restrictions on charter schools.

Charter schools, a form of school choice, are less-regulated public schools. Chicago teachers unions expressed their opposition to charter schools in 2019 by demanding the continuation of a moratorium on additional charter schools in the city. The charter moratorium caps charter enrollment over the life of the five-year contract that ended the two-week strike on October 31.

Strikes advocating similar freezes on charter schools occurred in California, Ohio, and South Carolina in 2019.

The strike actions have proliferated since teachers in West Virginia left work in February 2019 to protest an education reform bill that would have authorized the state’s first charter schools. The legislature did not pass the bill, but a compromise law that allows the creation of three charter schools by 2023 was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice on June 28.

Unions ‘Slinging Mud’

The strikes show teachers unions feel pressure from charter school competitors, says Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

“The teachers’ unions are threatened by any disruption to their education monopoly,” Sand said. “Instead of trying to compete with these schools of choice, the unions try to kill them off.”

Teachers unions routinely slander charters and private schools, says Sand.

“Private schools are almost never unionized, and only a very small percentage—about 11 percent—of charters are,” Sand said. “[Unions] demean charters by accusing them of ‘cherry-picking students’ or claim that private schools are racist. Both are untrue, but when you are desperate to win a battle, slinging mud is just part of the deal.”

‘Throwing a Tantrum’

Teacher strikes come at the cost of students, says Teresa Mull, a policy advisor on education issues to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

“In striking, teachers are basically throwing a tantrum and refusing to do the work they were hired to do … and while they strike, who suffers? Innocent parents and children,” Mull said.

‘A Logical, Quick Fix’

Strike vouchers, a concept developed by The Heartland Institute, would allow parents experiencing a teacher strike to send their child to any private, parochial, or charter school willing to enroll additional students, says Mull.

“Strike vouchers are a logical, quick fix to the disgraceful practice that is teacher strikes,” Mull said. “Strike vouchers would offer these families a place to go that is wholesome, educational, and, best of all, immune, at least temporarily, from the ills caused by teachers who turn a blind eye to their duties and take to the picket line.”

Increasing education options is necessary to fix the rampant shortcomings of public education, says Mull.

“Strike vouchers and other education choice programs are the only solution to a deeply flawed government school system,” Mull said.

Hayley Sledge (hayley@sledges.us) writes from Dayton, Ohio.