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Charter Strike Over, But Does it Signal Changing Time in Chicago?


About 500 Chicago charter school teachers and 8,000 students were back in the classroom after a historic, nearly weeklong strike came to an end Sunday.

Teachers have a tentative contract with charter operator Acero, but it comes at a time when the environment for charter schools in Chicago is changing. A strike like this one wasn’t much of a possibility 22 years ago, when charters were first welcomed in Chicago. Some experts say it’s likely not the last.

And last week, Chicago Public Schools rejected proposals for three new charter schools.

Elizabeth Todd-Breland, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor and author of the new book “A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s,” says Chicago is a “hostile climate for charter schools” because of the amount of community organizing – by both the Chicago Teachers Union and the community – against what they believe is the “privatization” of public education.

“I think that is a dramatic change,” Todd-Breland said. “And you can start seeing that, through a number of different organizing efforts … questioning whether private measures are the best way to improve public education.”

The Chicago Teachers Union, which is known for being critical of charters, is calling for legislation that would control how charter schools operate.

One of these bills would require charter schools to have local school councils. Another would place a moratorium on new charters in financially distressed districts like CPS. One would ban for-profit management companies and place a cap on CEO pay, and another bill would abolish the state charter commission.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey says this isn’t political, as some charter advocates believe it is, but says the rank-and-file are behind these efforts.

“Anyone who visited any one of those picket lines would see the real desire of charter school teachers to have a voice in how their own schools operate,” Sharkey said.

But charter advocates blame politics and agitators for the strike at charters schools.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools says if CTU really believes in supporting charter teachers they should be working to be sure those teachers and schools get the same kind of funding for facilities as public schools do, so that charter operators can afford better wages for teachers.

“This movement’s really about giving access to parents and communities for different options,” said Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “And they’ve been good to the city, overall.

It’s worth noting that CTU begins formal contract negotiations with CPS in mid-January, since that contract ends this school year.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman


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