Charter school educators unionize to stand strong for students


By Brian Washington

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“Being united helps teachers to become stronger advocates for our students. We will strive to provide them with the necessary tools they need to become successful global learners prepared for the challenges of the 21st century.”

That’s according to Ana Maria Libunao, an educator who works at Los Angeles’ Apple Academy Charter Public Schools, which has recently voted to unionize. Apple Academy Charter Schools serve K-through-5 students and has two campuses.

Educators at the school are excited to know that establishing a formal and collective voice will allow them to speak louder for students.

I want to know my ideas, concerns and involvement will be valued when doing what is best for my students socially, academically, and emotionally,” said Elise Sargent, in an open letter to the community from the Apple Academy staff about why educators at the school decided to form a union.

Nationwide, out of the estimated 6,004 charter schools operating in the United States, approximately 12 percent of them are unionized, but that number is growing—thanks in large part to the growth of charter school management companies.

Educators believe the growth of charter management companies have often resulted in decisions being made separate  and apart from classrooms and the local communities these schools serve. They say this growth has had a negative impact on students and the profession. That’s why educators at many charter schools are turning to unions to help them reclaim the collaborative dynamic that was originally at the heart of the charter school movement. Unions are helping them have more of a say in important decisions that impact the classroom.

In California, more than 150 charter schools have unionized and in New Jersey, the New Jersey Education Association is now representing 8 charter schools. And earlier this month, Education Votes reported on the Community School of Excellence in Minnesota, where educators recently voted to join Education Minnesota, the statewide union for teachers and education support professionals.

At Apple Academy, educators say they want to lead alongside parents, community members as well as school administrators and personnel to create a rigorous academic and safe learning environment for students, and establishing a union is the best way to do it.

“I want a union at Apple Academy because I believe in collective action to actively organize, educate, and mobilize, empower, and transform communities,” said Karla Tobar, an educator at the school. “It takes a village to educate a child, and it’s important we all have a voice in the daily learning conditions of our students.”

Reader Comments

  1. I’ve experienced a year at a charter school, so I know how important it is to advocate for students, their families, and the teachers who work there. I was warned going in that it would be difficult (mainly due to low salary and no teacher protection), but i had NO idea how bad it could really get. Only 2 weeks into my job, I had to take half of an over-enrolled first grade class, and jam them into an adjoining room, next to a Kindergarten class in progress. Half of my students had to sit on the table or “buddy up” in one chair. We were given workbooks, and no explanation on what to do with them, at a single large table. On day 2, it was so noisy, we could not concentrate. So, I took all of the students into the hall, and we staged a “sit-in” along the hallway walls. The principal sympathized, but she went and got the top administrator/owner, who came and yelled at me in front of the students. “What if the parents see this? This is very unprofessional!” To which I countered, “So is expecting this many children to learn cramped into a room with not enough furniture, that is so loud, we cannot concentrate”. She acted as if this news was a surprise, so we were allowed to go back to the students’ original room, where I co-taught with another teacher. It was NOT a happy time. From what I understand, most of the original staff left at the end of the year, as did I.

  2. I hope this proves to be the way to stop charter schools from destroying the promise of free public education that is vital to our democracy. So far, most of the time, charter schools put profit before providing a good education for all our children.

    1. Marvin, I am surprised that the GOP hasn’t suggested privatizing our military, sell shares on the Wall Street casino, and turn it into a “for profit” organization!

    1. What a great idea! We can help fix these poorly run charters if we can unionize them. We’ll save the students more than anything. As you can see, the teachers can just quit after they realize how bad it is. The poor children, however, are stuck in that dysfunctional mess.

      1. Mary,
        A union will allow its members to feel safe and secure in their positions when it comes to speaking up for the most vulnerable, the children. So teachers in that situation will work to fix things rather than just leave. And they will not be retaliated against by dictatorial administrators.

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