Red for Ed Spreads to Chicago Charter Schools
Chicago, IL – Nearly 500 teachers, students, parents and allies gathered at the Chicago Board of Education, Sept. 26, to call for equal pay for equal work for charter school educators. “We fought for and won a large increase in state funding for education in Chicago, but in our schools most of that money was pocketed by charter operators and not put into their classrooms,” said Chicago Teachers Union Charter Division Chairperson Chris Baehrend.
The rally called for by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) protested charter school educators’ meager wages in comparison to district employees doing the same work. This has caused a huge exodus of good charter school teachers leaving their schools after one or two years. This is in spite of the fact that charter school operators receive 8% more per student than Chicago district schools. The large crowd thundered the chant, “Equal work, Equal pay!”
It is no secret that the charter school industry was established to break unions, drive down wages and enrich a chosen few. “It’s the story of one political deal between boss and elected official after another,” said Baehrend, “at the expense of our students.” The union in Chicago has been successful at organizing about one third of the charter industry. They have lined up 11 of their twelve contracts to expire this autumn. The union members are looking to move the whole industry to a standard equivalent to district employees. Many at the rally expressed a willingness to strike if necessary.
“This is a unique opportunity, due to hard work by CTU charter school leaders over many years to align contracts, not just to raise standards in the charter sector, but to notch wins on class size, work day, and benefits that will give us power to get the same wins in the Chicago Public Schools contract,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.
Charter schools have said that they are innovative but, “Innovation does not happen in the boardroom, it happens in the classroom. Teachers are innovative, you are innovative,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates exclaimed to those gathered, “but there is nothing innovative about low wages.”
Charter school teacher and CTU Executive Board member Sarah Chambers, “We are here to stand up for our students. For five weeks classrooms at my school have been managed by substitute teaches. Many of our students don’t have books. This is unacceptable.”
Understaffing is another major issue for CTU charter educators. There are not enough teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff to handle the special education needs at the charter schools. Federally mandated Individual Education Plans (IEP) are violated every day. Charter schools often take resources from general education to deal with a crisis in special education. Seemingly speaking for the whole rally one protester commented, “We just need them to put the money into the classroom.”
“Our proposals are fair and in the best interests of our students,” said Jen Conant, Chair of the CTU Council, Civitas Federation of Teachers. “Why should our schools suffer from turnover and staff shortages while our employers are hoarding educational tax dollars that should be spent on our students? All Chicago educators do the same work for the same students. We deserve equality and we will not settle for less.”