In New Mexico, charter advocates played good defense and staved off an attempt to impose a moratorium on charters.
Looking ahead, Ziebarth is “optimistic that we can finally break through in Alabama next year.” He also expects charter schools will be allowed to expand in Missouri, and may be allowed to form in Montana – though that will have to wait until the state legislature reconvenes in 2013.
Ziebarth acknowledged that charters have “made pretty good progress in a number of states,” but have suffered a few disappointments, too.
Several politically conservative states such as Texas, Idaho, Alabama and Mississippifailed to pass charter school measures in 2011. While Republicans run the show in those states, and typically favor school choice and charter schools, Ziebarth thinks there is a misperception among some that charters only benefit urban areas, and not rural and suburban communities.
Teacher unions also present a problem for charter schools. Ziebarth said the unions employ a three-pronged approach to stopping the spread of charter schools: legislation, litigation and organization.
If charter laws survive the legislative and legal hurdles, unions will often try to organize the charter school teachers. If the union succeeds in forcing charter schools to collectively bargain with employees, the schools lose their flexibility and innovation, and become virtually indistinguishable from their traditional public school counterparts.
Without a doubt, teacher unions will try to roll back the gains charter school supporters have made over the past year, Ziebarth said.
“Teacher unions are still fighting hard in statehouses across the country,” he said.
The unions will continue to fight their charter school competitors, likely because charters have become so popular with families all across the country. Educationnews.org reports that "six school districts now have more than 30 percent of their public school students enrolled in public charter schools: New Orleans, Washington D.C., Detroit, Kansas City (Missouri), Flint, MI and Gary, IN."
The site also reports that the Los Angeles district has 79,385 students enrolled in charter schools, the highest number in the nation.
Ziebarth believes the best way to inoculate charter schools from the volatility of politics is to make the movement as bipartisan as possible.
“But that’s easier said than done,” he said.
- Ben Velderman can be contacted at
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