During the pandemic, teachers unions fought to keep schools closed and thereby deprive students of a meaningful education. Now, the United Federation of Teachers is suing to keep shuttered a school in the Bronx, as recently recounted by a blistering op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Tunku Varadarajan.
Specifically, Vertex Academies seeks to open a new charter high school in an impoverished neighborhood in the Bronx, on the premises of the now defunct Blessed Sacrament School. Justice Sonia Sotomayor graduated valedictorian from the Blessed Sacrament School in 1968, explaining that her mother enrolled her in the private school because “she watched what happened to my cousins in public school, and worried if we went there, we might not get out.”
Vertex expects to serve overwhelmingly low-income, minority families in the Bronx, and it plans to provide every student—not just the top students—with an International Baccalaureate education, a rigorous educational program that prepares students for challenging career and post-secondary options. But Vertex’s status is in question, because the United Federation of Teachers is suing to prevent the school from opening in August.
Of course, the worst villain here might not be the teachers union, but New York law, which deprives families of school choice. As Mr. Varadarajan explains:
[C]harter schools could do a lot more good if not for the limits New York imposes on them. The number of charters statewide is fixed at 460, of which no more than 290 can be in New York City. There are 50 unused charter licenses in the state, but the law prohibits their transfer to the city, where demand outstrips supply. The New York City Charter School Center reports that as of 2019, the latest year for which figures are available, 81,300 applicants were competing for 33,000 seats.
In part as a result of this legislatively engineered scarcity, only 29 charter schools in New York City offer “a guaranteed pathway all the way to 12th grade,” Mr. Rowe says. Students elsewhere finish middle school facing “an abyss”: “They have to enter the New York high-school selection process, where you make 12 choices,” he says. “You almost never get your top choice, and oftentimes you don’t get any of your 12 choices, because of the algorithms that are used.” Result: “They end up in the neighborhood high school, which is the high school that they were trying to escape from in the first place.” Vertex promises to solve that problem for the students at its feeder schools.
Before law school, I worked at an educational nonprofit in New York City and saw firsthand how stressful the high school selection process was for students, particularly low-income students hoping for something better than their neighborhood public high school. Students in the South Bronx’s struggling public high schools have abysmal proficiency scores and graduation rates, leaving parents and students desperate for other options. That’s why it’s doubly disheartening to see teachers, enabled by harmful laws, fighting to deprive students of the opportunity that Vertex could provide.