Up Bubbles the Charter Schools Question

by Steve, September 16th, 2007

laborA discussion of Portland Public Schools neighborhood divestment has turned into a debate about charter schools. I don’t mind, really, since it’s a tightly related subject. But it is a topic I was pointedly not addressing. People feel very strongly about this issue, myself included, but for the moment, it is a little distracting from my point about how district policy is disproportionately distributing the public revenue it is trusted with.

But now comes Heather Straube, founder of a new North Portland charter school, getting very defensive about the relationship of charter schools to the teachers union.

As a “daughter of two teamsters and activists,” Straube insists “we are very pro-union,” but later explains that it wouldn’t make sense to have a union with only seven staff members.

What she doesn’t recognize (or chooses not to mention) is that these seven staffers, employees of Portland Public Schools, would otherwise be members of their respective unions. While her one little school may not seem a threat, the movement toward shutting down neighborhood schools and opening charters is a serious threat to union security in any school district.

Assurances to pay union wages “[i]f we can” ring hollow to anybody who has worked both with and without a union contract.

Straube catalogs some of the myriad problems in schools in PPS’ poorest neighborhoods, and goes to great lengths to demonstrate her “liberal” credibility. It’s not a “conservative” movement, she assures us.

Indeed, it is a libertarian movement, geared toward solving problems of small groups of families in isolation, without regard for the greater good. “Local control” is invoked without any context of how that term has been used historically to justify segregation. Those of us trying to make a difference for everybody are derided as playing “politics”.

While I have no doubt that New Harvest will be plenty “liberal”, I have to place it in the greater milieu of the charter school movement. It is indeed a form of privatization, and even if individual schools are “cool”, they are tools used by a movement with a nefarious project: the dismantling of our traditional, neighborhood-based public schools, and the unions that come with them. It bodes poorly for teachers and students alike.