The Role of Unions In NJ's Charter School Wars

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:

Drains Resources from
Local Districts
Requires Sending-
District Voter Approval
Yes, upon the
passage of Bill 3582
Teachers and Administrators
Must Be Unionized

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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