Charter schools are spreading throughout America. Charters are public schools that are allowed wide latitude to work outside the traditional public-school model. Commonly they're not unionized.
Perhaps the most dramatic success story comes from New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina in 2006, the city switched to a charter-school model to rebuild a system that failed academically before the disaster, and whose infrastructure was severely damaged afterward.
Today, charters make up 90 percent of K-12 public schools in the Big Easy. In March 2011, the Times-Picayune newspaper reported that "standardized test scores in New Orleans show a majority of the city's independent charter schools are improving student performance ... at a notably faster rate than traditional schools."
California charters also have advanced, with 900 now serving about 200,000 children. That progress could end if Assembly Bill 1172 becomes law. The summary of the bill, by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, says it "[s]pecifies that a chartering authority may deny a charter petition if it makes a written factual finding that the charter school would have a negative fiscal impact on the school district."
The bill is sponsored by the powerful California Teachers Association. The union argued on its website, "This bill is necessary to ensure the fiscal solvency of school districts, and restore local control to elected school board members." Mr. Mendoza is a former CTA official.
"It would seem that no matter how you derive a dollar amount, that charters don't get the same funding as traditional schools," Larry Sand told us; he's president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, a reform group. "As such, I can't figure out how [charters] can 'damage local school finances.' This law seems like an attempt to make it that more difficult for charters to come into existence. Some oversight is good, of course, but this seems to be excessive."
Despite the success of charters here, Mr. Sand warned, "The wolf is always at the door in California. It's much easier for California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers to harass charter schools by invoking restrictive laws than it is to try to unionize them one by one."
AB1172 passed the Assembly on Jan. 30, on a 41-27 vote. It's currently in the Senate Rules Committee.
The governor might veto AB1172, but it shouldn't come to that. The Senate should defeat it.