In the fifty plus years of the UFT’s proud history, educators have consistently taken up the fight for a wide range of issues affecting our city’s classrooms. Whether that has meant rallying in the streets of Manhattan, lobbying elected officials in Albany and Washington, or organizing our chapters in schools in all five boroughs.
From our struggle to form the UFT in 1960 to the strike in 1975 over swelling class sizes to protesting apartheid in South Africa in 1984 and standing up for public schools when former Mayor Giuliani championed parochial schools in the 1990s, our goal has always been to demand the public education system that our students and our communities deserve.
As part of that tradition, former UFT President Albert Shanker, as AFT President, was one of the first education leaders to champion the idea of charter schools. In a 1988 speech, he envisioned teacher-led schools that would experiment with innovative education methods which, after being subjected to rigorous evaluation, could be adopted by other public schools.
Shanker, a staunch advocate for students, envisioned that these schools would empower teachers and educate the highest-need students, welcoming any student who walked in their doors. He also obviously expected that charter schools would grant staff their rights to bargain collectively. Charter schools were not intended to compete with public schools or to operate as a separate system.
But some leaders in the corporate charter school movement and their partners in the charter lobby have pushed a different agenda. This is apparent in their current push for New York State to greatly expand the number of charter school seats even though thousands of current seats remain unfilled. In New York City alone, charter schools have 2,500 empty seats right now and have approval for another 27,000 seats in the coming years.
As educators, it is your honored obligation to reach every student in every seat; you give your all to every young person who enters your classrooms. When those in leadership fail to fill seats for political reasons or counsel out struggling students, it is educators, students and families who are most affected.
Teachers throughout the city have organized unions at their charter schools because they want teacher voice, accountability, and transparency. The UFT, as a teacher-led organization, must demand that all charters schools uphold these principles before there is any discussion of lifting the “charter cap” to increase the number of charter schools in New York.
We affirm Shanker’s vision of charter schools that truly serve as public schools. We strongly support charter schools that embody the core values of public education and a democratic society: equal access for all students; high academic standards; accountability to parents and the public.
As an organization of teachers and staff, the UFT represent educators, not employers. Teachers want what students need, whether in district or charter schools. Until charter schools are at capacity and until they operate with transparency and are accountable to the public, we must keep the cap and not increase the number of charters in our city.