Class is in session for the approximately 52,000 Chicago students that attend one of the city’s 96 charter schools. While charter schools are mostly taxpayer financed, charter teachers and staff are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Teachers and staff at 14 charters, though, have unionized under the umbrella of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or ACTS. Like CTU, ACTS is part of the American Federation of Teachers.
ACTS members have made appearances at picket lines and also the massive downtown rally late yesterday afternoon, hopeful that the strike would call attention to charter teacher concerns like overcrowded classrooms and teacher evaluation methods – and also galvanize public support for teacher unions.
Harris is a high school teacher at CICS Northtown Academy and says that he got a e-mail from Stacey Beardsley, chief executive officer of the Civatas Schools charter network “telling us to keep our focus on the kids.” But Harris says that, “There was no pressure telling us not to support the strike.”
Harris says that while his members have not been discouraged from supporting CTU, the vast majority of charter teachers who are not in a union “are in the more awkward position.”
ACTS claims that charter school networks and individual schools have fought their unionization efforts every step of the way. In many instances, they claim, schools were reluctant to negotiate a contract even after school staff received union certification from the Illinois Education and Labor Relations Board.
Twelve of the 14 unionized charters, though, have negotiated a deal with either an individual school or charter school operator, such as Aspira. According to Harris, each of these contracts contains a no-strike clause.
CTU President Karen Lewis has excoriated charter schools for siphoning limited resources away from neighborhood schools. Despite his position as a charter teacher, Harris says that he “totally agrees with that” adding that charters are often used as a way to underpay teachers and not provide the full financial disclosure information required of individual CPS schools.
While the median CTU teacher salary is $72,000, the median Chicago charter teacher salary is estimated to be at $43,000. “If I were to get a job at CPS tomorrow, I know my salary would go up $10,000,” Harris says.