NLRB rules charter schools aren’t public schools

In two separate decisions last week, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that charter schools are private corporations, not public institutions, the Washington Post reports.


Renaissance Charter H.S. for Innovation vs. Hyde Leadership Charter Sch., Nov. 2012. (Innovation_School / Flickr CC)

Specifically, the Hyde Leadership Charter School in Brooklyn and the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School should be treated, under federal employment and collective bargaining laws, as though they are private corporations that receive taxpayer dollars, like many contractors that do work for the government.

That’s because the schools weren’t directly established by the government but by private corporations. They might exist “within the public school system,” but the people who administer them aren’t accountable to public officials or voters, the NLRB said.

“Hyde was not established by a state or local government, and is not itself a public school,” the majority opinion says. That means any teachers at the school would have to organize under the National Labor Relations Act, not under state laws written for public-sector employees.

The decisions cannot be used to establish any precedents that might help in other cases involving charter schools, in part because the labor relations in charter school laws haven’t been tested in too many court cases and vary widely from state to state.

Like a soccer player who scores an own-goal, corporations that set up charter schools have played on both sides of the ball—public and private—depending on whether they want to convince people to enroll their students in the charters or they want to get around laws that make the work that goes on at public agencies more transparent. Except there’s nothing accidental about how charter schools operate.

“Charter management claims charters are public schools when they want taxpayers’ money,” the Albany Times-Union quoted Carl Korn, spokesman for the New York State United Teachers, as saying. But they “use legal maneuvers to hide from public audits, seek to evade the rules that govern public pre-K programs and, in this case, claim they are private schools when it comes to union representational elections.”

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Paul Katula

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.