Saturday, Jul 18, 2015
When you think of charter schools, there are probably a few people and concepts that come to mind: Michelle Rhee, “grit,” Bill Gates, Eva Moskowitz, KIPP, etc. And if you happen to think of teachers unions at some point during this education policy reverie, you’ll probably have them in the role they’re traditionally assigned by the media — as anti-charter and anti-reform. Just like Israelis and Palestinians, Crips and Bloods, Yankees and Red Sox, teachers unions and the charter movement simply don’t like each other. That’s just the way it is.
But according to a recent piece in the American Prospect by Rachel M. Cohen, the truth of how charters and unions relate to one another is more complicated. It turns out that there are some charter school teachers out there who’ve started to think a union isn’t such a bad idea after all; and their ranks are growing. Whether it’s in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, Cohen shows, the future of education policy is very much in flux. In fact, the day when the financial backers of charters have to decide which they care about more — breaking unions or educating kids — may arrive sooner than you think.
Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Cohen to discuss her piece, the motivations of charter teachers who are seeking to unionize, and why their success may actually bring charters closer to their historical roots and original mission. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.
How widespread are the efforts to unionize among charter teachers?
It’s definitely not the majority. They say 7 percent of all charter school teachers are currently unionized, and half of those were because the state set that up when they created the charter law. For example, in Baltimore, which I didn’t talk about in my piece, all charter school teachers are unionized, but not because they came together and started a union draft like they’re doing in Philadelphia or Chicago, where the state said you have to follow your district’s collective bargaining unit.
By no measure is it the majority, but what’s interesting now is that there are fairly larger networks of charter schools starting to do it, and if alliance charter school teachers succeed in L.A. (which is the largest charter school network), then that would impact what other smaller schools do.
What tend to be the pro-union teachers’ complaints?
Most charter school teachers work on year-to-year contracts, which does not provide great stability, especially if you’re trying to create a family.
One of the things that I saw was that charter school teachers tended to be younger, and some of the teachers that I spoke with who were in their early 30s were like, “I want to stay at this school, but if I want to get married and have kids there’s no way that I can not know if I have a job in September once May rolls around. I need to either work in a district school or unionize this school, because this whole tenuous working model is not sustainable for the kind of middle-class life I’m trying to build.” So that’s something all workers are trying to figure out how to get for themselves.
By Maude Barlow
July 17, 2015
The United Nations reports that we have 15 years to avert a full-blown water crisis and that, by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. Five hundred renowned scientists brought together by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that our collective abuse of water has caused the earth to enter a “new geologic age,” a “planetary transformation” akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Already, they reported, a majority of the world’s population lives within a 30-mile radius of water sources that are badly stressed or running out.
For a long time, we in the Global North, especially North America and Europe, have seen the growing water crisis as an issue of the Global South. Certainly, the grim UN statistics on those without access to water and sanitation have referred mostly to poor countries in Africa, Latin America, and large parts of Asia. Heartbreaking images of children dying of waterborne disease have always seemed to come from the slums of Nairobi, Kolkata, or La Paz. Similarly, the worst stories of water pollution and shortages have originated in the densely populated areas of the South.
But the global water crisis is just that—global—in every sense of the word. A deadly combination of growing inequality, climate change, rising water prices, and mismanagement of water sources in the North has suddenly put the world on a more even footing.
There is now a Third World in the First World. Growing poverty in rich countries has created an underclass that cannot pay rising water rates. As reported by Circle of Blue, the price of water in 30 major US cities is rising faster than most other household staples—41 percent since 2010, with no end in sight. As a result, increasing numbers cannot pay their water bills, and cutoffs are growing across the country. Inner-city Detroit reminds me more of the slums of Bogotá than the North American cities of my childhood.
Historic poverty and unemployment in Europe have also put millions at risk. Caught between unaffordable rising water rates and the imposition of European-wide austerity measures, thousands of families in Spain, Portugal, and Greece have had their water service cut off. An employee of the water utility Veolia Eau was fired for refusing to cut supplies to 1,000 families in Avignon, France.
As in the Global South, the trend of privatizing water services has placed an added burden on the poor of the North. Food and Water Watch and other organizations have clearly documented that the rates for water and sewer services rise dramatically with privatization. Unlike government water agencies, corporate-run water services must make a profit for their involvement.