Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Alliance of Charter School Employees (ACSE)?
Philly ACSE is a community of charter school employees organized by the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania (AFT PA). The alliance’s goal is to mobilize charter school employees around issues of common concern, such as providing the best possible education to all children, regardless of background; strengthening our profession; expanding professional development; improving the conditions of teaching and learning; and bolstering our voice in school-level decision-making. As a community of educators, we also share best practices and professional resources, and speak out on public policy issues that affect our jobs.
Why is the AFT working to support charter school employees through ACSE?
Schools, students and educators all perform better when teachers and school staff receive the professional respect, support and compensation they deserve. As a union of professionals, the AFT has long supported teachers and school employees in their efforts to strengthen their voice on the job, improve their schools, and better their wages, benefits and working conditions. This commitment extends to all educators, regardless of the type of school in which they work.
Is it possible for charter school teachers and staff to form unions?
Charter school teachers and staff have the same rights as all public school employees. In many states, there are already laws that make it possible for charter school employees to form unions and bargain collectively for union contracts, just as there are for traditional public school employees. Where there aren’t such laws, we can work together to enact state or local policies that affirm the right of all school employees to choose union representation and bargain collectively.
Are there charter school employees who already have unions and union contracts?
Yes. The AFT is proud to currently represent teachers and support staff in over 150 public charter schools across the country. In just this past year, nearly a thousand employees at more than a dozen charter schools states voted for union representation.
Why should charter school teachers and staff consider forming unions?
For the very same reasons that millions of educators in all types of schools—public, charter and private—have chosen to form unions: so you can speak with a unified voice, and therefore have more power to improve the teaching and working conditions in your schools.
In general, unionized school employees have greater power to advocate for higher pay, better health and retirement benefits, fairer treatment in the workplace and increased job security. They also have more leverage to push for effective professional development opportunities, a bigger say in curriculum decisions, and improvements in school conditions and classroom management.
In many ways, working in a unionized charter school offers the best of both worlds: the protections and rights of a union, and the freedom and flexibility of a charter.
If my colleagues and I form a union, will that create animosity between school employees and administrators?
In charter schools where there is trust and a shared commitment to success, a union can mean more collaboration and teamwork, not less. This is true in many traditional public schools, too, where administrators and unionized school employees frequently work together to solve common problems. Experience has shown that unions and collaboration often go hand in hand, because unions help create the kind of secure work environment that encourages innovation, risk-taking and experimentation.
What is the AFT’s view on charter schools?
The AFT has always supported charter schools that embody the core principles of public education and a democratic society: equity, high academic standards, accountability, a commitment to helping all public schools improve, and the right of employees to freely choose union representation. In fact, former AFT president Albert Shanker was one of the first education leaders to champion the concept of charter schools. Shanker envisioned innovative, teacher-run laboratories of reform that would spur improvements in all public schools. For more on the AFT and charter schools, click here.
The AFT has, however, raised concerns about the unfettered growth of charter schools that fail to meet basic accountability standards. Some charter school operators exploit their staff, put profit ahead of students’ needs, fail to disclose essential information, and/or consistently produce negative academic outcomes.
We have an obligation to demand accountability from low-performing charter schools, just as we must demand accountability from traditional public schools that consistently underperform. A first step is to make sure that teachers and staff in low-performing schools have a real say in school decision-making, since they are the ones who often know the most about what is needed to put a struggling school back on track.
Does the AFT favor traditional public schools over charter schools?
Charter schools are public schools, so it makes little sense to pit one type of school against the other. We know there are excellent charter public schools and excellent traditional public schools. Likewise, there are charter and traditional public schools that fall short of expectations.
Instead of setting up a false competition between charter and public schools, we should be focusing on what we can learn from high-performing schools, be they charter or traditional public. And we should concentrate on how charter and traditional public schools can collaborate to share best practices, so our students benefit from this joint expertise.
The bottom line is that a school’s governance structure does not magically produce better or worse results. Regardless of the type of school, what happens in the school and in the classroom matters most. That includes making sure that school employees have a strong voice in school operations, and have the ability to make improvements for the good of their students.
I’m a charter school employee. How can I get involved in Philly ACSE?
The first step is to sign up with ACSE . Signing up is free and will entitle you to receive news and updates on issues and activities about our profession at the local, state and national levels. You also will have access to the latest professional development materials published by the AFT—materials rooted firmly in the best research and thoroughly reviewed by fellow teachers. After you sign up , remember to ask a colleague to do so, too!