Chicago Teachers Union fights to weaken Chicago charter schools

Chicago Teachers Union fights to weaken Chicago charter schools

Many Chicago charter school bargaining agreements are expiring this summer, and the Chicago Teachers Union is positioning itself to grow its power by diminishing charter schools as an alternative for parents and students.

Collective bargaining agreements at nearly all of Chicago’s unionized charter schools expire this summer, and the Chicago Teachers Union, which represents those schools, appears poised to strike to get its demands met.

CTU doesn’t have the best interests of charter schools or their students in mind. With 10 charter school contracts expiring, union leaders are primed to make a power grab and exert their influence over charter school operations.

This isn’t the only CTU ploy this year. Along with other large government unions in the state, CTU is supporting a change to the Illinois Constitution on the Nov. 8 ballot that would guarantee $2,100 property tax increases during the next four years by giving union bosses more power to make demands and negating state lawmakers’ ability to curb those powers. If Amendment 1 passes, charter school parents and teachers represented by CTU will have even more to worry about.

Chicago charter school teachers and parents should be wary of CTU’s intentions this summer following its long history of undermining charter schools and charter school expansion. They should also pay attention to how Amendment 1 could make matters worse.

CTU’s long history of opposing charter schools’ success

CTU’s actions to undermine the success of charter schools show why both parents and teachers should be wary of any calls to collective action CTU may issue against charter school administrators in coming months.

CTU fights to stop charter expansion

Former CTU Vice President Caroline Rutherford claimed in 2018 that Chicago Public Schools are threatened by charter school growth, and the union needed to come together to stop the expansion of charters and privatization of schools in the district.

In negotiating the past two teacher contracts with CPS, CTU even required a moratorium on the growth of charter schools. The latest contract provides:

“There will be a net zero increase in the number of Board authorized charter schools over the term of this agreement and the total number of students enrolled by the 2023-24 school year will not exceed 101% of the total student enrollment capacity as of school year 2019-20.”

In other words, CTU works to prevent the growth of charter schools and the number of students who can choose them.

This action does not reflect an effort to provide the best educational options for students, but rather a desire to restrict competition. It benefits only the teachers union, which has long opposed the very existence of charter schools and the potential for high-quality competition and lost union dues.

Former CTU President Jesse Sharkey explicitly admitted his motivation to employ tactics which would “undermine further charter expansion,” such as unionizing and merging charter schools into CTU. These tactics to hinder charter expansion further strengthen CTU’s power in Chicago and stop competition in the district.

CTU fights to unionize all Chicago charter schools and hinder their innovation

Over the years, despite opposing charter schools in Chicago, CTU successfully pushed to unionize over a quarter of charter school teachers and staff. And in 2018, CTU successfully merged the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS) under the same CTU banner, forcing CTU’s agenda onto the charter schools represented by ChiACTS, and diminishing the representative voice of the charter school teachers within CTU. This attempt to unionize charter schools is yet another tool CTU is using to neutralize its competition in the district.

Charter schools were designed to combat union demands and improve public education while maintaining autonomy and, most importantly, innovation. “The hallmarks of the charter movement is innovation,” said Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “And it’s hard to innovate when you’re bound by a very restrictive contract.”

By representing charter affiliates, CTU can undermine the autonomy and mission of charter schools and increase its power in the district. Many students, parents and teachers in Chicago charters were historically spared the militant tactics and extreme demands of CTU. But that could change if CTU decides to use those tactics – including going on strike – to push through demands in current or upcoming contract negotiations.

Plus, it isn’t a coincidence the charter school contracts represented by CTU all expire this summer. It is another explicit example of CTU’s desire to undermine the success and autonomy of charter schools.

“To increase our power, [Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff’s] executive board voted in 2014 to align all current and future contracts to expire together in the summer of 2018,” explained Chris Baehrend, the CTU Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (CTU-ACTS) division chair, in the book, “Strike for Common Good.” “By doing this, we hoped to leverage our collective action to win new rights and dramatically raise standards in all areas of our contracts.”

CTU values union leadership interests over parents’ voices

Charter schools are intended to give parents an option beyond traditional, neighborhood public schools to better meet their children’s specific needs. But in 2019, CTU leadership blamed school closures taking place in the district on this “choice“ being offered to parents.

CTU leadership sought to frame parents’ autonomy over their children’s educations as harmful to public education in the city. What they didn’t talk about were the 50 school closures in part forced by CTU’s extreme bargaining. The 2012 strike that precipitated those 50 closures also caused thousands of teachers to be laid off and cost district students seven days of instruction.

More recently, CTU in January left district parents scrambling after 11 p.m. on a school night with just hours to develop a back-up plan when the union decided not to show up for in-person classes. Over 330,000 school children missedfive days of instruction at the whim of union leaders who thought they knew more about COVID-19 than public health experts.

What Amendment 1 would mean for Chicago charters under CTU

CTU has proven it would rather have government union bosses make decisions about what’s best for Chicago children than their parents. Union leaders want to extend that reach into charter schools. But as CTU prepares to exert control this summer over Chicago-area charter schools, parents across Illinois ought to be wary that there is more CTU is pursuing this summer.

Amendment 1 – dubbed a “workers’ rights amendment” by proponents – seeks to cement government union power in the state constitution and allow special interests more power than elected state lawmakers, including over taxation.

CTU has a history of spreading its militant tactics to other unions, and takes credit for triggering union strikes in other states and teaching those unions to demand contract provisions that go beyond normal negotiations over wages and benefits. If Amendment 1 passes, no school district will be safe from the kind of militant tactics evangelized by CTU.

Voters need to ask themselves whether government unions such as CTU need more power, especially when it is clearwhat they’ve done to taxes and state finances with the power they already possess.

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