Sorry, Charter Boosters: Record Numbers Of Teachers At Chicago Charter Schools Are Organizing Unions
Above Photo: Teachers at the ASPIRA charter school network rally on March 9 during union contract negotiations with management. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
Unionized teachers can help keep charter administrations accountable to their workers—and to students.
It’s a delicious irony for teachers unions that Rauner College Prep—a Chicago charter school named after Bruce Rauner, Illinois’ virulently anti-union governor—may soon have a union.
On March 3, the Chicago Association of Charter Teachers and Staff (ACTS) announced an organizing drive at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which has 18 campuses across Chicago, including Rauner College Prep. If the campaign is successful, Noble will become the nation’s largest unionized charter network. The addition of Noble’s 800 teachers and staff to its ranks would also give ACTS, a local of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), an impressive density in Chicago’s charter market—the union says it would represent as many as 40 percent of charter teachers in Chicago. About 10 percent of charter teachers nationwide are unionized, according to the pro-charter Center for Education Reform.
The Chicago Teachers Union, a sister local to ACTS, has been a bright spot in a bleak labor landscape. But traditional public school educators aren’t the only ones on the move. Chicago is also at the epicenter of a nationwide push to unionize charter schools. The AFT says it now has 7,000 members across charter schools in 15 states such as New York and California, where large organizing drives are also gaining stream. More than 1,000 of the union’s charter members are in Chicago.
ACTS hopes to increase charter teachers’ pay and benefits (according to data obtained by Catalyst, a Chicago education publication, full-time Noble teachers make about $60,000 a year including bonuses and stipends; CPS teachers make $74,000), increase teacher retention and wrest control away from “unaccountable” charter management. In doing so, the union may eliminate corporate reformers’ incentives for pushing charters in the first place.
The growth of charter schools during the past decade has gone hand-in-hand with the dismantling of public education. In the 2015–16 school year, nearly 3 million students—up 250,000 from the prior year—attended more than 6,800 charters across 42 states, according to the pro-charter National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In Chicago, charters have spread rapidly at the same time traditional public schools have been shuttered. The city infamously closed 49 schools in one fell swoop in 2013 and closed about 100 in the decade before that. At the same time, new charter schools have continued to open, totaling 130 today. The schools are privately run but operate almost entirely on public dollars.
Charter boosters say the model provides school administrators the freedom to innovate. In a statement responding to the Noble union drive, Superintendent Michael Milkie said that the charter network would “respect the rights of individuals to organize or not organize.” However, he warned that “a restrictive union contract could eliminate the curriculum and Record Numbers Of Charter Schools Teachers Are Organizing Unions | PopularResistance.Org: