Noting that “the conflict between educators, the two corporate controlled political parties, and the unions that falsely claim to represent teachers has now reached a new stage,” in November 2018, Kristina Betinis reported for the World Socialist Web Site that teachers at four charter school operators in Chicago had voted overwhelmingly to strike. Teachers at Acero Schools and Chicago International Charter Schools, which together operate 19 schools, approved a strike with above 95% support of teachers from all schools. Subsequently teachers at two more Chicago charter school operators, Civitas Education Partners and Quest Management, authorized walkouts.
As Betinis reported, Chicago charter school teachers sought to organize strikes and walkouts to demand better pay, smaller class sizes, longer parental leave, and increased resources and wages for special education and paraprofessionals.
Charter schools have grown rapidly in Chicago. In 2010, charter school approximately 35,000 students in Chicago attended charter schools. By 2017, that figure had risen to an estimated 65,000 students. Increases in charter school enrollments reduce attendance at—and funding for—the city’s public schools.
During that same period the relationship between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the city’s charter school teachers has also undergone change, Betinis reported. More than thirty Chicago charter schools are now covered under the Chicago Teachers Union after the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS) merged with the CTU earlier in 2018. Before then, the CTU had opposed charter school expansion, and ChiACTS was affiliated the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
As Betinis reported, in 2012, the CTU “betrayed a walkout of nearly 30,000 educators” in Chicago and then agreed to a deal with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that led to the closure of 49 public schools and “the layoff of thousands of educators.” The “sellout of the strike,” Betinis wrote, “paved the way for another wave of expansion of charter schools.”
While sharply critical of the CTU’s president, Jesse Sharkey, whose combined compensation is “nearly five times the salary of a public-school teacher,” Betinis reported that charter school teachers are paid, on average, $10,000 to $15,000 less per year than public school teachers. However, Betinis warned against taking too much comfort from Sharkey’s public statements after the Acero teachers voted to strike. While noting that Sharkey claimed that charter school teachers “deserve the same pay and benefits for doing equal work that’s done across the rest of the school system in the city of Chicago,” Betinis cautioned that Sharkey’s real message might be a warning, to public school teachers, who, in Betinis’s words, “could very well see starting wages and conditions ‘equalized’ downward with the help of the CTU.”
Instead, Betinis wrote, “To fight the district, the city government and the powerful corporate and financial forces behind them, charter school teachers certainly need to be organized, but they cannot take a step forward through the CTU and its affiliated unions.” The real fight to defend teachers and high quality public education, Betinis wrote, will require the election of “rank-and-file committees in every school and community, independent of the unions.”
In an overwhelmingly polarized and corporatized political environment, public institutions are being left at the wayside, and teachers are left to fend for themselves. Like Chicago, teachers from West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and other states have made their voices heard this year by organizing walkouts which gained popular support. However, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) were quick to take control of these independently organized strikes to diffuse them, because they were organized outside of the unions. None of the issues such as low pay, funding cuts, or overall learning conditions that the teachers fought for were resolved.
Corporate media have provided limited but meaningful coverage of charter school teachers’ efforts to organize. Although there is considerably coverage on the broader topic of charter schools in the establishment press, much of this coverage is biased, and very little of it relates to the strikes by charter school teachers. One notable exception is a December 2018 report in the New York Times. In October, NBC’s Chicago affiliate covered the charter school teachers’ vote to authorize a strike. However, Betinis’s report for the World Socialist Web Site went into much more detail.
Kristina Betinis, “Chicago Charter School Teachers Vote Overwhelmingly to Authorize Strike,” World Socialist Web Site, November 5, 2018, www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/11/05/chic-n05.html.
Student Researchers: Alyssa Lash, Caroline Lussier, and Erica Rindels (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Editor’s Note: As we post this story, corporate news outlets—including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and FOX News—are reporting that last-minute negotiations have led to Chicago’s charter school teachers suspending their strike efforts for now.