The question of just how public charter schools really are has been further muddied by a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board in a case involving a Chicago charter school.
Critics of charter schools have long contended that private companies that run publicly funded charters don’t act like public organizations and that charter schools represent the privatization of public education in the United States. I recently published this post about whether judges are increasingly viewing charters as private.
Now we have a decision by the board, made last month and just publicized, involving efforts by teachers at the Chicago Math and Science Academy to form a union. Teachers organized under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, which regulates labor relations between public schools and their employees, with two-thirds of the teachers voting in favor, according to WBEZ.org. The private managers of the academy, however, wanted the process to be held under federal law and appealed to the NLRB, which handles labor relations in the private sector.
The board had to decide whether this case was within its jurisdiction, given that the school is publicly funded but privately managed. It ruled that the case does belong in its jurisdiction, essentially meaning that teachers at the academy are subject to private labor relations laws. What this means for other charter schools is unclear.
Here’s how the board described the issue in the case, taken from the decision:
The issue in this case is whether a private, nonprofit
corporation that established and operates a public charter
school in Chicago, Illinois, is exempt from our jurisdiction
because assertedly it is a political subdivision of the
State of Illinois within the meaning of Section 2(2) of the
National Labor Relations Act.1 The union that seeks to
represent teachers employed at the school—under Illinois
law—argues that the Board lacks jurisdiction. In contrast,
the nonprofit corporation itself has filed an election
petition with the Board and argues that the Act does apply.
… we have decided that the Board should not, under Section
14(c)(1), decline to assert jurisdiction over CMSA.
There is variation in how different states deal with labor issues regarding charter schools, WBEZ said. Some don’t allow charter school teachers to unionize, while others mandate that charter teachers belong to the same union as teachers in traditional public schools.
The evidence that public education is being privatized keeps mounting.