Chicago Teachers Union charter educators have been presenting their demands this fall for educational equity directly to charter operators, and there’s a telling sign of the situation these educators face: At least one of these charter operators uses its taxpayer dollars to pay its chief executive officer more than the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
The demands charter educators are making are simple: Return resources to classrooms, fund student needs, give educators a long-deserved raise and provide parents and all Chicago residents with the transparency we deserve.
On Oct. 24, nearly 700 educators from at least 19 of the 34 charter schools represented by the CTU will announce dates for strike authorization votes. Although charters have grown to 8 percent of the schools in our country, no charter educators have ever gone on strike. The CTU rank-and-file will make the same demands for equity, accountability and fairness this winter when we present our contract demands to the Chicago Board of Education.
Our members were provoked into launching the first teachers’ strike in CPS in a quarter of a century in 2012. We are prepared to do the same again.
This year, 2018, has been a banner year for public education as teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky and elsewhere shut down their schools and took to the streets because the young people they serve deserved better than what their school systems were providing. We sacrifice a lot for our students — time, energy, money — but we will also fight to defend them when they are under attack. The same array of forces that threatened Chicago students in 2012 also threatened students in the year’s “Red State revolt.” When our students are starved of the opportunities we know they so richly deserve, we educators will redouble our sacrifice by forgoing our paychecks and shutting down schools until we win justice.
The latest attack on public education has been exacerbated by President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, through the continued handover of traditional public schools to charter operators. When educational tax dollars are funneled to these private businesses, we lose public accountability over finances and administration. We have seen charter operators across the country imposing substandard working conditions on educators and transferring funds meant for classrooms into exorbitant pay for management. The educators working in those schools, however, are not corporate representatives of the charter industry. They are public servants, and committed to the same youth that traditional public schools educate.
When the CTU merged this past year with the union representing educators at charter schools, it was to better serve all of Chicago’s youth. Educators at charter schools face the same challenges as educators at traditional public schools, including punitive school discipline codes that disproportionately target students of color for the number of parts in their hair and the brazen flouting of legal and moral requirements to serve special education students and victims of trauma.
Charter operators in Chicago now receive 8 percent more funding per pupil than CPS schools, yet wages languish as low as 30 percent or more below the CPS scale. Like educators in traditional schools, educators in charter schools are the real innovators, and they are best positioned to innovate when they have the protections of a strong contract.
Charter operators market charter schools as separate and better options than district-run schools. Yet this “choice” doesn’t bring equity — instead, it brings an increase in racial disparities and a second tier in the teaching profession.
Short-staffing and below-par compensation that drives out great educators are a direct threat to students in charter schools. As a result, CTU members in those schools are united to fight in their defense.
Jesse Sharkey is president of the Chicago Teachers Union.