Pritzker signs charter neutrality bill, Chicago Teachers Union fights to weaken charter schools

Pritzker signs charter neutrality bill, Chicago Teachers Union fights to weaken charter schools

Contracts at 35 Chicago charter schools represented by the Chicago Teachers Union are up for negotiations this year. CTU, with the help of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and House Bill 1120, is positioning itself to grow its power by diminishing charter schools as an alternative for parents and students.

Collective bargaining agreements at Chicago charter schools unionized under the Chicago Teachers Union are up for negotiation this year. CTU appears poised to strike to get its demands met through a “groundbreaking strategy to coordinate bargaining at all the schools.” Their aim is to push for demands beyond the typical scope of bargaining.

On Aug. 4, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law House Bill 1120, which requires union neutrality clauses in all charter contract renewals or proposals. These clauses mean charter school operators will be required to in effect support a union’s attempt to organize its staff, making it easier for CTU or other unions in Illinois to unionize charter schools. CTU slipped in favor of the bill.

CTU doesn’t have the best interests of charter schools or their students in mind. With 35 charter school contracts run by 13 different charter operators up for negotiation and the passage of HB 1120, union leaders are primed to make a power grab and exert their influence over charter school operations.

Chicago charter school teachers and parents should be wary of CTU’s intentions following its long history of undermining charter schools and charter school expansion.

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 unionize all Chicago charter schools and hinder their innovation

House Bill 1120 is the most recent example of CTU pushing for the unionization of charter schools across Chicago and the state. The bill requires charter schools across Illinois to include a union neutrality agreement in their proposals for renewal or formation. The neutrality agreements mean charter school operators will be required to support a union’s attempt to organize its staff. This makes it easier for CTU or other unions in Illinois to unionize charter schools.

Despite opposing charter schools in Chicago, CTU has 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.

These attempts to unionize charter schools further strengthen CTU’s power in Chicago and stop 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 are up for negotiation this year. 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 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 are yet more tools CTU is using to neutralize its competition in the district.

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.

Between 2011 and 2022, CTU slipped on at least 50 bills affecting school choice and charter schools. One of those bills CTU opposed would have allowed parents in low-performing schools to have a say in school reforms. It slipped against a bill allowing parents of at least 51% of students at low-performing schools to initiate reform measures through a petition process. Potential reforms included reopening as a charter school.

Following a strike by CTU in 2012, 50 virtually empty CPS schools were closed, in part because of the costly contract coming out of that strike. But closure of those schools became a rallying cry for the militant branch of CTU called the Caucus of Rank and File Educators. Ironically, many of the closed schools would not be empty if CTU leadership had not forced former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to block public charter schools from using those campuses.

Nearly 52,000 students in CPS attend charter schools. Their parents have decided charter schools can better serve their child’s needs than traditional, neighborhood schools. For now, these parents have that choice – that is, until CTU further attempts to prevent them from utilizing the charter system.

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