Tuesday, March 31, 2009

UFT's "Open Letter" to Charters: Believe it, or Your Lyin' Eyes

On January 28th, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) with a UFT representative alongside, urged the state legislature to do the following:

"Charter school tuition payments should be adjusted downward by the same percentage that a public school district's state aid is reduced should a reduction become enacted."

NYSUT and the UFT got their way. Charter school funding was "adjusted downward." Yet state aid to districts was increased. A win-win for the unions. The entire NYSUT testimony is here:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the NYC United Federation of Teachers, NYSUT's largest local, on Monday sent an "Open Letter to UFT Members in New York City Charter Schools and To The New York City Charter School Community" trying to explain the state budget's wallop to charter schools.

Ms. Weingarten wants her charter teacher membership to believe that her organization "labored long and hard to protect" charter schools and all public education in the City. Not exactly.

In fact, the NYSUT-UFT proposal presented to the state legislature in January to freeze charter funding next year at current-year levels is exactly what was included in the state budget. This proposal will cut $51 million from charter schools statewide, including $31 million for charters located in New York City.

To call this UFT letter "spin" would be an insult to spinmeisters, everywhere.

Meanwhile, school aid went up by more than $400 million, including $1.2 billion added to the Governor's proposal. Yet, Ms. Weingarten claims "all schools will be frozen at this year's education funding." Wrong. Only charter schools are "frozen." District school aid is going up, and they can levy taxes to spend even more if they choose. Charters don't have that luxury to make up for their crippling loss.

Charter Funding Gap Made Worse
Charter schools already get 30 percent less than district schools (unless they locate in district space). This inequity will be made worse since almost all their funding comes from a statutory formula based on district operating spending. School districts, by contrast, get funded by state aid and local taxes. In New York City's case, only half or less of its budget comes from state aid. Even if there was no aid increase for districts, this would have far less of an impact than for charters.

The point of this is that Randi Weingarten's organization, as part of NYSUT, urged the state legislature to impose this funding "freeze" on charter schools by making a false equivalence between charter funding and state aid. The legislature complied.

The result will bring real harm to many, including faculty who labor in charters - the very individuals NYSUT and UFT purport to represent (or seek to represent) as members, and from whom they collect union dues. Whatever that is, it's not "in solidarity."

Living in Make-Believe
Part of Ms. Weingarten's response to these unassailable facts is to deny them and change the subject. For example, she writes that "leaders in the charter school movement" were asked to fight against school cuts and to fight for the stimulus package in Washington. "They declined" she says. This is nonsense. Her statement that charter leaders "opposed" UFT's efforts in the CFE case is more fiction.

Just who exactly are these nebulous leaders "reached out to" by Ms. Weingarten? She doesn't say. The truth is charter leaders were very involved the stimulus debate in D.C. through our National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and we strongly support President Obama's education agenda. Charter school leaders here in New York have always supported more education funding and, more directly, equitable funding between charter and district schools. As a reminder, charter school organizations work for and are supported by...charter schools. District schools have plenty of their own groups, some of which need multi-story edifices to house their hundreds of employees.

Ms. Weingarten claims "[e]quity is important" and promises she will "vigorously support efforts to protect charter schools from a 'double cut' in two years." Talk is cheap. Her organization's "downward" charter funding proposal being enacted in the state budget makes this commitment a cruel joke. Her pledge to reform the charter funding formula was made in her last "open letter" in February also rings hollow. I hope I'm proven wrong on UFT's commitments, and will be mirthful in the process.

Charter advocates do not "stand on the sidelines," Ms. Weingarten. Charter leaders and organizations have been neck deep in the fight to advance the interests of charter schools. By contrast, the unions have been working against charters for a decade, right through to last weekend's budget deal, whether it's opposing the cap lift on the number of charters, undermining their litigation against the duplicative State Comptroller audits, or cutting their funding for next year. It's all on the record.

Teachers Should Consider
Randi Weingarten and her union counterparts in Buffalo persuaded charter teachers on opposite ends of the state not to proceed with press conferences planned in February to call on UFT and NYSUT to rescind their proposal to the legislature to adjust "downward" charter funding. They owe those teachers an apology.

How should unionized charter teachers feel today? Will they take at face value another UFT "open letter" or consider the contrary facts of the union's anti-charter funding position finding its way in the state budget for next year?

The option of teachers to join or not join a union should be their choice, and respected. Those who join UFT or other NYSUT local also should know the hard truth of the political agenda of these groups before their hard-earned dues subsidizes that agenda.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard

P.S. Randi: Gov. "Patterson" uses one "t" rather than two.

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