Home Nation's first charter school strike reverberates across the country

Nation’s first charter school strike reverberates across the country

The nation’s first charter school strike launched Tuesday in Chicago, reverberating across the nation, including in Florida, where traditional public schools have been pitted against charters run by private groups.

Media coverage in Chicago markets and nationwide took note of the historic strike, occurring more than a quarter of a century after so-called charters entered the education landscape.

The idea was that charter schools, which are public, would be freed from bureaucracy and run by private entities rather than the public education establishment.

But the charter movement in recent years has sparked union drives and push back over salaries and working conditions, with Tuesday’s picketing in Chicago — a tough union town — at the Acero network of charter schools where thousands of students attend classes.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Teachers Union said the key issues in the strike include “reduced class sizes, maternity and paternity leave, a revamped teacher evaluation system and better pay. The union said they were also unable to secure commitments on special education services and guaranteed protections for undocumented students and families.”

The Tribune story also said: “Tuesday’s strike marks the CTU’s latest move in a long effort to disrupt the charter school industry and flex its muscle ahead of expected contract negotiations for tens of thousands of educators at buildings directly operated by Chicago Public Schools.

“Whether it is a public charter, whether it is a public school, whether we are in West Virginia or in Chicago, teachers want and need a voice in order for us to assure that children get what they need,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said as she joined the striking workers. “That is why we are walking out for our kids today,” the Tribune reported.

While Florida law doesn’t allow for teacher strikes, the battleground continues in the Sunshine State, where the Florida Education Association, and some state leaders have serious questions about some of the for-profit companies that run charter schools, the politics around their approvals, and the schools’ accountability to parents, students, and taxpayers.

Competition — and friction — has become common between charters and traditional schools, as the number of charters have grown dramatically in Florida.

What began as sprinkling of new charter schools in Florida two decades ago has grown into one of the largest charter movements in the country, with tens of thousands of Florida students flocking to charters and bypassing traditional public schools.

To be certain, the charter movement has been embraced by some families seeking an alternative to public schools that are struggling or have other concerns. And new governor-elect Ron DeSantis has been a supporter of charter schools.

But Florida educators and union officials have continued to fight back against charter expansion.

This fall, a proposed school-related Constitutional Amendment would have opened the door for more charter schools, based on language in the measure. But a lawsuit ensued over the proposal, and the Florida Supreme Court knocked the proposed Amendment off the Nov. 6 ballot.

 

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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