Chicago teachers union eyes future
security with charter merger
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[August 12, 2017]
By Julia Jacobs
CHICAGO (Reuters) - After trying for years
to stymie the growth of charter schools in Chicago, leaders of its
public school teachers' union are seeking to enlist staff from charter
schools in a bid to strengthen the unionís bargaining power and tap a
new source of membersí fees.
Union officials in the third-largest U.S. city say their push for a
tie-up took on added urgency after U.S. President Donald Trump chose
Betsy DeVos, a backer of charter and private schools, as his education
In cities and suburbs across the country, charters and traditional
public schools have been in fierce competition for students and
financing. But many are united in their rejection of private schools and
Unions fear Trump and DeVos will slash funding for traditional public
schools, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) wants charter members to
boost their ranks in order to help them fight back.
A more unified approach has long been the answer, said Jesse Sharkey,
vice president of the CTU.
"I don't think we're going to get to keep public education the way we
currently think of it unless people organize and prepare to defend it,"
Charter schools are free and open to the public but are run
independently of local school districts by private companies that
compete for state funds. They often boast small class sizes, innovative
teaching styles or a particular academic focus. Their numbers in the
United States have shot up to more than 6,000, from 2,500 a decade ago.
An estimated 6 percent of U.S. public school students, or more than 3
million pupils, attend charter schools.
The possibility of a merger has many eyes on Chicago, where the
proportion of charter school teachers who are unionized on their own is
much higher than in other cities.
While only about 10 percent of U.S. charter schools had collective
bargaining agreements last year, according to the National Alliance for
Public Charter Schools, 25 percent of Chicago's 130 charter schools are
Leaders of the city's unionized charter school educators say they see
the benefits in joining forces with the CTU.
"We face an existential crisis," said Chris Baehrend, president of
Chicago's union for charter teachers. "The answer to every crisis is
more solidarity. It's better for us to be a small part of a larger voice
that wins things."
[to top of second column]
Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, speaks during the Milken
Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. on
May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
VOTE DUE IN THE FALL
Leaders of his 1,000-member organization had been mulling a merger
with the CTU for years, Baehrend said, but Trump's election
propelled them into action from fear of his and DeVos' conservative
DeVos' office did not respond to requests for comment.
In June, the education secretary faced hostile questions from a U.S.
Senate committee about her support for school vouchers, to which
DeVos responded that she was only exploring the possibility of a
Vouchers are state-funded payments families can use to send children
to private schools.
Supporters say they could give those children in neighborhoods with
weak public schools the chance of a better education at private
institutions. Critics say they are intended to boost private-sector
profits with public money.
A majority of Baehrend's organization voted in June to merge with
The CTU's leadership favors the merger, and its 23,500 members will
vote on it in the fall. Baehrend said he is confident the measure
Not everyone supports the closer links.
Some supporters of charter schools say the attributes that attract
many parents, including their flexibility and autonomy, could be put
at risk in Chicago if the CTU introduces new terms for contracts,
such as limits on the time an instructor can teach each day.
"They're now trying to find ways to undermine the existing schools
via organizing," Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of
Charter Schools, said of the CTU's leaders.
(Reporting by Julia Jacobs; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa
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