The Role of Unions In NJ’s Charter School Wars

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In the midst of New Jersey’s preoccupation with charter schools last week (as well as my own: see here and here), one important aspect has not received adequate attention.

In NJ we have three forms of public school choice:

1. The Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP), which allows students to cross district boundaries to attend other traditional public schools.

2. Magnet schools, which are county-run and sometimes far pricier and exclusive than the local traditional schools from which they draw their enrollment (see here for discussion of Bergen Academies).

3. Charter schools.

There’s one key difference among the three:

IPSCP Magnet Charter
Drains Resources from
Local Districts
Yes Yes Yes
Requires Sending-
District Voter Approval
No No Yes, upon the
passage of Bill 3582
Teachers and Administrators
Must Be Unionized
Yes Yes No

In other words, a substantive difference among our public school choice programs in NJ is that staff members in magnets and IPSCP schools are unionized, while staff members in charter schools are not required to be dues-paying members of NJEA (or our 5 chapters of AFT). Remember, NJEA collects $130 million in annual dues, about $730 per member.

Also worth noting is that the primary lobbyists for Bill A3582, Save Our Schools-NJ, reserves its opposition to school choice to charter schools, not magnets or IPSCP. The bill the group is pushing, A 3582, would require local voter approval for only charters, not magnets or IPSCP. The group’s website announces, “communities must pay to run those charter schools and the funds for doing so come out of the host districts’ school budgets.”

But, of course, communities also pay tuition for kids enrolled in IPSCP schools and magnet schools. SOS-NJ is silent on those costs.

Likewise, Education Law Center, whose Board of Directors includes Vince Giordano, Executive Director of NJEA, reserves its opposition to public school choice for charters; magnets and IPSCP get off scot-free.

Maybe charters’ lack of union card requirements is irrelevant. Maybe not. You decide.

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  • darcie, October 10, 2011 @ 8:02 pm Reply

    Really? That's your analysis and comparison of charters, magnets and Interdistrict Public School Choice as they relate to local control issues?

    This is from the DOE website regarding Interdistrict Public School Choice:

    District participation in the program is optional. The decision to participate in the program by a school district is made by the local board of education. The district would then send an application to the NJ Department of Education for final processing and approval.

    Kind of the opposite of how it happens with charters huh, where districts have NO SAY in whether or not they want a charter school…

    This is from your own NJ Spotlight Opinion Piece:

    Magnet schools are county-run public schools.

    Huh, so they are run by the county. I'll be the first to admit I know very little about magnets, but it looks like from your own words there are local control measures built right in if they are created and run by the county… again, please correct me if I am wrong.

    Ms. Waters, perhaps you can just take things at face value. The issue with charters is that the state gets to tell local communities that they need to financially subsidize a school against their wishes. Interdistrict Choice and Magnets have local control measures and accountability built in.

    At a time when there is constant chatter about making successful small districts merge with larger districts to save funds, the state is opening charters by the dozen, each it's own independent district, unaccountable to taxpayers, districts or even counties. Does this really make sense to you?

    The Christie administration proudly boasts of their plan to proliferate charters across the state. In their application for the federal charter school grant the state claimed they were “hoping to open 45-60 new high-quality charters a year over the three year grant”. As best as I can tell there are 16 magnet schools in all of New Jersey… please correct me if I am wrong, but there is little to no information about them on the NJDOE website. They don't seem to be much of a priority for the state…

    You have been unable to link Save Our Schools NJ to the NJEA or the NEA with anything other than the Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation game (which I used to link you to a billionaire ed reformer) so now you are trying to peddle a story that the legislation Save Our Schools NJ supports favors unions by presenting misleading information and then telling your readers to decide for themselves?

    Ms. Waters, the issue is simple and straight forward. It's about local control. Your attempts to make it about something else are becoming a bit desperate.

  • Julia, October 10, 2011 @ 9:43 pm Reply


    Save Our Schools NJ also doesn't have a formal position on teacher tenure reform or teacher evaluation. In fact, we only have formal positions on five issues because we are a completely grassroots, all volunteer organization so do not have the resources to tackle every education-related issue.

    Since no one was trying to dramatically increase the number of magnet schools, we didn't think that was a huge priority.

    We actually are working to reform the inter-district public school choice program to help break up the concentrated poverty in some school districts and to limit the cost to the sending districts.

    FYI, approximately 15% of charter schools are unionized and there are no prohibitions on the rest voting in a union.

    Do you have a problem with working people having access to collective bargaining?

  • kallikak, October 11, 2011 @ 4:27 am Reply

    Ladies, please don't confuse Ms. Waters with the facts.

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