Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - PolicyIssueBrief(1)
Eric Brower 10/8/15
Public Policy Issue Brief Dr. Lewis
Scope of Problem
In recent years, New York State has seen an effort to create more charter schools, both in
upstate New York and downstate. In New York City, the schools have proven to be somewhat
successful in providing students with educational opportunity. However, the schools have
proven to be less successful in upstate New York in terms of enrollment and access (NYSUT
2014). Recently, unions, such as New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), have begun to
draw attention to labor issues within charter schools (NYSUT 2014).
Some examples often cited, when considering labour issues in regards to charter schools,
include lack of proper unionization rights and working contracts for faculty. This can mean long
hours for faculty and lack of many benefits that contracted educators often receive (McGrath
2012). Without the ability to assemble in unions, the faculty has little leverage to collectively
bargain for benefits and any changes they may feel they and their fellow workers are entitled to
(McGrath 2012). These issues have been brought to light in recent times as New York State
attempts to expand its charter school system.
The issue presented with regard to the current policy regarding charter schools is the
treatment that faculty and staff of charter schools are to receive. The current policy does not
make it clear if these workers are to enjoy the rights of a public employee or private employee.
This creates great ambiguity in terms of the treatment that they might expect from their
employers (Concordia University 2013; McGrath 2012).
In 1998, New York State passed the New York State Charter School Act of 1998 with the
goal of providing the young residents of the state with expanded educational opportunities. This
bill afforded the state government the ability to approve charter schools (NYSED 2014). Charter
schools are schools which receive both public and private funding. Due to the relatively new
concept of state funded charter schools, not much additional past policy exists (NYSED 2014).
In New York, most past policy is in the form of regulations and legislation regarding funding and
construction of charter schools and remains the current policy.
As a result of the unclear position of faculty and conditions that may allow an employer
great leverage over a professional employee, many have been job candidates have been skeptical
about working for charter schools. This may cause an issue with adequately staffing the schools.
Additionally, some educators report poor working conditions, long hours, and low job
satisfaction as a result of working without the protection provided by unions and labour contracts
(Concordia University 2013).
In 2013, the state legislature passed legislation that carved out a grey area for charter
school faculty. With New York State Charter School Regulation 119.2, state charter schools
became legally able to hold their employees to either to the standards of a private or public
employee (NYSED 2014). This regulation particularly focused on retirement benefits to
employees. The scope of this legislation, however, has gone beyond beyond retirement
programs and has extended to general acceptance of charter school faculty not being entitled to
full public employee benefits, such as unionization and collective bargaining rights, as they fit
into a grey area of both private and public workers. This creates an issue for employees looking
to better their working conditions as faculty can often be fired at will for their attempts at
collective action (McGrath 2012).
This piece of legislation was created because charter schools are not purely public nor
purely private institutions. Therefore, some may argue that it is not right to hold them
specifically to one set of regulations or the other. Since they receive private endorsements,
donors may argue that they are a private organization. On the other hand, the schools also
receive substantial public funds, making it difficult to not hold them to some level of public
governance. For this reason, it may seem only prudent to create a purgatorial arrangement for
charter schools, in which they are neither public entities nor private entities.
The New York State Board of Regents is the governing body of charter schools in New
York State. The Board of Regents was vested with this power in New York State Charter School
Regulation 3.16. This regulation was passed in December 2013 and further created the idea of
charter schools as quasipublic institutions (NYSED 2014). This is due to the fact that the
schools must answer to public authorities but operate somewhat privately, this is especially
evident in a financial context. In the same vein, New York State Charter School Regulation
119.1 denoted that charter schools are to receive funding from private sources, such as from
private companies, however, the state government may pay to cover deficits between actual costs
of running a charter school and private funding shortfalls (NYSED 2014).
New York does not currently have any legislation requiring charter schools to grant
faculty members labour contracts or collective bargaining rights. Some states, such as
California, have noted an issue with the quasipublic nature of charter schools and the unfair
treatment faculty may receive. In 2013, California passed the Educational Employment
Relations Act which upheld the right of charter school educators unionize and collectively
bargain for labour contracts, at a localize level, without fear of repercussions from their employer
(CPERB 2013). This piece of legislation may lead the way for other states with charter school
systems to remodel their labour relations policy in respect to charter schools. New York,
currently, had adopted no such legislation (NYSUT 2014, CPERB 2013).
Key Organizations and Individuals
As stated previously, the New York State Board of Regents is a major player in the
policy area of education and charter school regulations in particular. The New York State
Department of Education (NYSED) is another state governing body tasked with regulating
charter schools. The head of the NYSED is Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, preceded by
Commissioner John King (NYSED 2015). Both have been notable figures in the educational
policy arena as commissioners of this department due to the policy they have recently advocated
for (NYSED 2015). Among these policies are policies related to charter schools, school funding,
and testing standards.
A major player in the advocacy for educators in NYSUT. This union is the state’s
leading educationalworker union and has taken up the issue of charter school labour relations to
its agenda in recent years. The union cannot protect charter school educators in the same ways
that they might full members, however, NYSUT still advocates on their behalf to a degree
(McGrath 2012). Particularly, NYSUT seeks to raise public awareness in regard to labour
relations within charter school to spur support of reform legislation. This legislation seeks to
offer charter school employees greater protection from their employers by allowing them
collective bargaining rights and protection from atwill termination.
The most clear alternative for New York State policy regarding labour relations with
charter school faculty and staff would be to pass some formal law that clearly defines their place
as either a public or private employee or the treatment and benefits that they might expect from
their employer. As mentioned earlier, California has already done this, after facing similar
challenges to what New York is currently facing (CPERB 2013). A state executive order could
also help to establish the level of protection charter school employees may have, as the New
York State Department of Education falls within the jurisdiction of the Governor’s Office and is
part of the state bureaucracy.
Another policy alternative may simply be to allow charter school educators and
employees to unionize. In Los Angeles, California, Green Dot Public Schools has allowed
charter school educators to unionize, with faculty paying dues to the California Teacher’s
Association or National Education Association. These schools have seen reduced turnover,
higher job satisfaction, and better working conditions since the implementation of this policy
(Exstrom 2012). If New York were to allow unionization of charter school employees, the issue
of recruiting and maintaining faculty, mentioned earlier, may be mitigated. This, in turn, may
make charter schools a more appealing choice of workplace for educators.
California Public Employment Relations Board. 2013. “Educational Employment
Relations Act.” Accessed October 3. http://www.perb.ca.gov/laws/eera.aspx.
Concordia University. 2013. “Pros and Cons of Teaching at a Charter School.” Accessed
October 27, 2015. http://education.cuportland.edu/blog/educatortips/pros
Exstrom, Michelle. 2012. “Teaching in Charter Schools.” National Convention of State
Legislatures. Accessed October 27, 2015. http://www.ncsl.org/documents
McGrath, Darryl. 2012. “Hardfought Victories for Charter School Teachers.” New York State
United Teachers. Last modified May 23, 2012.
National Association of Charter School Authorizers. 2015. “Press Releases.” Accessed
October 3. http://www.qualitycharters.org/newscommentary/pressreleases/.
New York State Education Department. 2014. “Charter School Regulations.” Accessed
October 3. http://www.p12.nysed.gov/psc/csregs.html.
New York State Education Department. 2015. “MaryEllen Elia Appointed New
Commissioner of State Education Department.” Last modified May 26, 2015.
New York State United Teachers. 2014. “Fact Sheet 1410 Charter Schools.” Last modified
April 28, 2014. http://www.nysut.org/resources/alllisting/2014/april/factsheet