Tanisha Pruitt: Cleveland charter school uses public dollars to fight union drive
Writing for the Ohio Capital Journal, Tanisha Pruitt looks at a Clevelend charter school where COVID relief funds are being used to squelch teachers’ desire to unionize.
Teachers at Menlo Park Academy come to work every day to shape the minds and inspire the dreams of young Clevelanders. They are in the middle of a union drive at the privately operated, publicly funded charter school, which serves gifted students in grades K-8. Management is fighting them every inch of the way.
The use of public funds for charter schools in Ohio already undermines Ohio’s public education system. The state is spending hundreds of millions on privately run charter schools and asking for little accountability in return. That’s how scandals like the ECOT debacle can take root. The for-profit online charter school took millions in public money by overinflating enrollment numbers.
When charter schools siphon public funds, public schools have less state funding for books, technology, facility upgrades and teacher pay. Meanwhile, more state money goes to private interests. It’s even more damaging when a charter school’s management uses those funds to fight teachers’ right to speak up together through a union.
Ohio lawmakers continue to spend more public funds on charter schools each year, committing an all-time high of nearly $1 billion in budget year 2020-2021. Menlo Park alone received over $4 million. Charters — like all schools — received federal funds through the COVID response legislation, with Menlo Park receiving close to $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding as well as Paycheck Protection Program funding. As a primarily publicly funded school, Menlo has a responsibility to use funds for education, and to be an ethical employer.
Instead, management is using some of the funding to fight the union drive. In November, 96% of Menlo’s educators signed union cards that were filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a secret-ballot union election. Management refused to voluntarily recognize the union and hired a high-price antiunion lawyer to delay the election. Their tactics didn’t work, however. Just last week, the NLRB ruled against management said it does have jurisdiction over the Menlo Park union election. The educators will vote on March 30.