Watching the Senate: Charter Schools
It looks like the Senate is where momentum is building towards a decision on whether or not to allow more charter schools in the state. Right now, there are three bills on the table (that I’ve found, anyway). S 0238 was proposed by Senator Leo R. Blais (Deputy Senate Pro-Tempore) and simply seeks to revoke the current moratorium on the establishment of charter schools in the state by removing section (h) of the current law, which states:
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year.
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year. except the board of regents may grant final approval for new charter schools to begin operations in the urban school districts of Providence, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Central Falls in the 2008-2009 school year.
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year in school districts that enroll less than nine thousand (9,000) students. The board of regents may grant final approval for new charter schools to begin operations in school districts that enroll nine thousand (9,000) or more students.
Senators Doyle and Cote signed-on to both of the latter two proposals. Senator Blais, who represents a more rural district (Coventry, Foster, Scituate)–which probably doesn’t meet the population requirement laid out in S 0240–is clearly concerned that all of Rhode Island’s students and parents get the same opportunity as those in the more urban and populated districts. As for S 0240, it is written so that it will encompass many of the suburban districts as well as the so-called “urban core.” Note that all of these are Democratic sponsored bills. Hopefully, this is a signal that, finally, something will get done to allow more charter schools in the state.
Then there is the “however.” S 0436, proposed by Senators Senators Connors (Deputy President Pro Tempore), Goodwin, and Maselli, seeks to amend the current Charter School Establishment law by adding:
A charter public school shall recognize an employee organization designated by the authorization cards of sixty percent (60%) of its employees in the appropriate bargaining unit as the exclusive representative of all the employees in such unit for the purpose of collective bargaining.
Currently, there is no provision in the law that specifically spells out whether or not a Charter school can be unionized if collective bargaining is permissible. This would “rectify” that situation.
UPDATE: In the comments section, Andrew adds a very important point concerning the S 0436:
“S0436 is even worse than you suggest. The bit about ‘designated by the authorization cards’ is a big change in the law hidden in some bland language. The authorization card provision, a.k.a. ‘card check’, eliminates the requirement that a union be approved by a secret ballot, meaning that at every step in the organizing process, union organizers and (possible future union officials) have access to a list of who supports them and who doesn’t. This puts employees in the position of having to weigh whether they think unionizing is a good idea against the knowledge that union leadership — not exactly famous for their protection of the rights of the minority and their toleration of dissenting opinions — may hold a grudge, if a union is eventually approved.”
Let’s just call S 0436 the “Charter School Unionization Act”, then, shall we?