Teachers at a Chicago area charter school network on Tuesday morning became the first charter school educators in the country to go on strike, calling for increased pay and greater educational resources.
Hundreds of Acero Schools teachers began protesting outside Acero’s Veterans Memorial Charter School Campus early Tuesday morning, and about 550 teachers in total will be on strike. Acero, which is one of the largest charter school networks in Chicago, has more than 7,000 students, more than 90 percent of which are Latinx.
“We’re going to stay on strike until we get education justice for the people who work in Acero charter schools,” Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said at a press conference announcing the strike, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
Acero teachers made history today with the first-ever charter school strike. It was a beautiful thing to see Chicago again writing a new chapter in the story of the labor movement. We stand w/ teachers fighting corporate interests that take money from the classrooms. #solidarity pic.twitter.com/ttrGEl2S7x
— Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (@RossanaFor33) December 4, 2018
Acero teachers, who earn less than educators at Chicago Public Schools, have called for pay raises, more bilingual teachers, improved special education resources, reductions in the 32-student class size, and sanctuary schools, or a safe zone for undocumented immigrants who may be a risk for deportation. Educators have been in negotiations with Acero management since the spring, but were not able to reach a deal before Monday’s strike deadline. Negotiations re-opened later Tuesday morning, but it didn’t stop teachers from picketing.
According to Sharkey, Acero revealed a report Monday night at “literally the 11th hour and 59th minute” that showed the school’s funding reserves increased by more than $10 million, while classroom resources decreased by $1 million.
— Sandra Torres (@SandraTorresNBC) December 4, 2018
“We are very disappointed that union leaders have put their anti-charter political agenda ahead of the interests of our students,” Acero Schools CEO Richard L. Rodriguez said in a statement to the Sun Times. “The sad fact is that interests from outside our community are using our students and our schools as a means to advance their national anti-charter school platform.”
Rodriguez’s claim that Acero teachers are being used as pawns to advance a political agenda is not the first time such comments have been made to delegitimize a teacher strike. This past spring, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) downplayed the teacher strikes in his state by calling the movement a “political circus.”
“What I don’t want to do is get into these political operatives’ political circus,” he said on a radio show during the strikes, according to The Arizona Republic. “Why would I sit down with someone who wants to play games?”
Charter schools enjoy significant support from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who in 2017, named increases in grant funding to school choice programs and charter schools as the top priority for the department. President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal called for $1.5 billion to support investments in school choice, including an additional $160 million to boost state and local efforts to launch or expand charter schools. At the same time, the administration proposes cutting more than $4.5 billion in public education funds.
But even with such support, many charter schools are struggling due to little public oversight. In Illinois, the Education Department found in 2010 that the state “has no system in place for [monitoring charter schools].” According to research by the Center for Popular Democracy and Action Now, by early 2015, Illinois had seen $13.1 million in fraud by charter school officials, with total fraud estimated at more than $27 million in 2014 alone.