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Joel Klein, Agent Provocateur In The Charter School Ranks?

In the labor movement, we are familiar with agent provocateurs – covert agents of the boss who attempt to sabotage the work of the union while presenting themselves as its most militant supporters. They are the ones who distinguish themselves by urging violence during those moments of strikes where passions are most inflamed, in order to cast discredit on the union. Agent provocateurs can always be identified by the fact that their actions invariably harm – rather then help – the cause of the striking workers and their union.

It seems to us that Joel Klein fits that description to a tee with respect to his role in the charter school movement in New York.

Here are the facts. You be the judge.

First, Klein loaded down the campaign to raise the cap on charter schools with all of his own ancillary issues that will make it that much harder to lift the cap. He made it clear that his purpose in supporting charter schools in New York City was to create as many non-union, publicly supported schools as he could. When a notorious union-busting foundation and law firm held a conference to garner support for their efforts to have New York charter schools be “union free,” who appeared as a featured speaker but one of the staff from the Department of Education’s own charter school arm. [Edwize reported on the conference here.] Klein and Bloomberg pressured Pataki into including in his charter school cap proposal a number of rather disastrous policy measures, most notably a last minute amendment which would make Klein the only head of a school district in all of New York State with the power to authorize his own charters. Since Klein already possesses the power to exempt any school in New York City from all of the bureaucracy and regulations the DOE regularly imposes, the only new power this amendment would give him is the power to establish New York City public schools without union representation for the staff.

To add fuel to that fire, Klein is now misrepresenting the position of the UFT on the charter school cap. Randi Weingarten has publicly stated her willingness to agree to an increase in the cap on charter schools in New York City if the law is also amended to secure the right of teachers in those same schools to choose to be represented by a union through ‘card check’ union recognition [an issue Edwize has discussed here, here and here]. Yet Klein and his close allies within the charter school movement are telling everyone who will listen that the UFT wants “automatic unionization” of charter school staff. The misrepresentation only serves to reinforce the fact that for Klein and his allies, charter schools are not about providing students and their families with good educational choices; they are about non-union public schools. And guess what, Joel: misrepresentation of our position does not make the UFT any more inclined to support all of the disastrous educational policy you had Pataki hitch onto the issue of the charter school cap.

[BTW, if you had any doubts about which piper calls the tunes at the New York Daily News, read the concluding paragraph to this “news” article in Sunday’s edition. What institution of journalism with even a modicum of integrity and self-respect would so obliterate the line between factual reporting and fact-free advocacy, and print Klein’s misrepresentation without even so much as a call to the UFT to see what our position actually is?]

Third, Klein went out of his way to make as many enemies for the campaign to lift the cap on charter schools as he could. He had Pataki, who is looking to boost his conservative credentials in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, add to his charter school cap proposal a measure that would disenfranchise New York City parents. If Pataki’s measures pass, Klein will be the only head of a school district in New York State given the power to convert an existing district school into a charter school without the agreement of a majority of the families in that school. To be absolutely certain to alienate parents, Klein then made passage of this proposal the number one legislative priority of the Department of Education. And when parents predictably balked at going along, and decided that they would rather join with an effort that made the resolution of Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit their priority, given the need to remedy the historic injustice in school funding done to New York City school children, he called out all his media attack dogs in the New York Post and New York Daily News to mount a frontal assault on the parents and their organizations. So quite a few people for whom the charter school cap was, at best, a marginal issue are now adamantly opposed to any proposal on it which has Klein’s support.

And finally there is Klein’s coup de grâce to the cause of the charter school cap. Having riled up half of New York City, Klein is now threatening state legislators in Albany if they do not his bidding on the cap. A blustering bully from New York City: just the sort of approach guaranteed to send upstate legislators, already hearing all manner of complaints from their constituents about the negative economic effects of charter schools on their public schools, into the camp of the opposition.

So there you have it: Joel Klein, agent provocateur in the charter schools ranks. The most obdurate of charter school opponents couldn’t have done a better job of undermining the campaign to lift the cap on charter schools if he tried.