Ohio’s largest teachers’ union wants to expand its membership rolls to a new arena — charter schools. Today the Ohio Education Association voted to begin organizing at charter schools.
The Ohio Education Association has never been a fan of charter schools. OEA Vice President Bill Leibensperger says the union doesn’t support charter schools as they currently operate in Ohio.
But the union has been losing members, about 6,000 in the past five years. That’s about 5 percent of its total current membership.
And Leibensperger says charter school teachers represent tens of thousands of potential new members. Plus, he says, by bringing charter school teachers into the union, it may be possible to morph charters into the kind of schools the union can get behind.
“We don’t support the way charter schools operate in the state of Ohio,” he says. “We believe that by organizing and giving them a voice, that learning conditions will improve.”
Leibensperger says the move to organize charter schools was a “teaching and learning” decision, not a “numbers” one.
Charter schools are publicly funded, but have more freedom in how they operate than traditional public schools.
The OEA vote today to authorize union leaders to start organizing charter school teachers and other staff was the result of a year-long internal discussion.
In Ohio, 42 of the state’s more than 300 charter schools have collective bargaining agreements with their teachers, according to 2009-10 data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Those union schools are generally traditional public schools that were converted to charter schools.
Nationally, about 12 percent of charter schools have collective bargaining agreements with their teachers’ unions, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Leibensperger declined to discuss the charter schools the union would approach first, but says the union had already had discussions with teachers at some charter schools.
“As far as the teachers, we will be going places where we’ve been invited,” he says.
“As far as management [reaction] goes, it’s hard to know. There certainly are some enlightened managers… And then there are managers who will try to fight it with every once of energy they have and we’ll just have to deal with those on a case by case basis.”
Note: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect estimate of the number of charter schools in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Education currently lists 353 charter schools.