As strike looms, charter schools tout open seats

52,000 students will be in class tomorrow, regardless of contract deal.

September 9, 2012

Contract talks between the Chicago Teachers Union and the school district are down to the wire today.

Officials have until midnight tonight to avert the first teachers strike in 25 years and last night negotiators on both sides seemed hopeful that a deal could be reached soon.

Big issues are still being hashed out—compensation, teacher layoff recall, class size and teacher evaluation.

As parents, teachers and students wait to hear if a deal is reached, leaders from several of the city’s charter schools are touting the fact that they don’t have to worry about a strike.

“Chicago charter schools will be open tomorrow,” said Beth Purvis, chief executive of Chicago International Charter Schools. “We think our parents have gotten the message. We think our kids have gotten the message, but we wanted to make sure that we were very clear to every person who lives Chicago that charter schools will be open for business tomorrow.”

Charter school teachers are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union, so for 52,000 Chicago children, school will be in session tomorrow. Just a handful of charters have unionized teachers, but they have their own bargaining unit.

Charter leaders also said they wanted parents to know that some charters have room for more students. They encouraged parents to enroll.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said on average his organization gets 10 to 12 calls each week from parents interested in charters. That number has tripled in the last month, Broy said.

Charter leaders frequently tout long waiting lists when pushing the school district to open more charters. But union officials and others have questioned whether the schools actually have such waiting lists.

When asked how many schools still have waiting lists, Broy did not have an exact number. He estimated that one-third of the city’s charter schools have open seats.

Some charters share buildings with neighborhood public schools, where teachers do belong to CTU. Leaders of schools in those situations also asked that if teachers go on strike, they stay away from their buildings and respect charter students.

“We do not need the imagery of teachers preventing children from going to the school of their choice,” said John Horan, who runs the North Lawndale College Prep charter schools.

Charter school expansion is one of the things the union has been fighting against over the past few years, saying the schools drain students and resources from local neighborhood schools.  

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked schools administration have advocated for more charter schools. The budget passed by the board of education at the end of August included both an increase in enrollment and funding for charter schools.