Chicago Teachers at 15-School Acero Charter Chain Strike: First Walkout at a Unionized Charter School Network

In the first walkout at a U.S. charter school network, 500 teachers at Chicago’s Acero (formerly UNO) charter school chain went on strike Tuesday.

Acero Charter Schools’ teachers are represented by the Chicago Teachers Union.  While teachers in a number of Chicago charter schools had formed their own ChiACTS union, at the end of last January, ChiACTS merged with the 28,000 member Chicago Teachers Union, an American Federation of Teachers local.

The NY TimesDana Goldstein reports that Acero charter schools serve 7,000 students. “Educators at Acero earn up to $13,000 less than their counterparts at traditional public schools in Chicago…. The chief executive of Acero, Richard I. Rodriguez, earns about $260,000 annually to manage 15 schools, a similar salary to that of Janice K. Jackson, the chief executive of the Chicago Public School system, which includes over 500 schools.”

In a press release, the Chicago Teachers’ Union describes critical issues on which the school’s management team and the CTU bargaining team remain far apart: “class size, sanctuary school community language in the contract, fair compensation for paraprofessionals, and lower class sizes, which are currently set at 32 students per class—four more than what Chicago Public Schools seeks to meet at district-run schools.  CTU members have called those class sizes both outrageous and unsafe for students, particularly children in kindergarten through second grade, where one adult simply does not have the capacity to safely supervise, let alone educate 32 young children.”  Teachers at Acero charters are also required to work longer hours and for a longer school year than teachers in the Chicago Public Schools—20 percent more, writes Laura Meckler of the Washington Post.

For the Chicago Sun-Times, Manny Ramos, Alice Yin and Lauren FitzPatrick explain why sanctuary school community language has become a bargaining issue for teachers at Acero Charter Schools, where 90 percent of the students are Latino-Latina: “Teachers on the picket lines Tuesday stressed the importance of sanctuary school protections for their students and families, a designation that bars federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering campus without a court order, warrant, or subpoena.  Such working conditions for staff are bargainable for charter schools, though not for Chicago Public Schools, union attorney Robert Bloch said.”  While the right to public education is protected for non-citizen children by the 1982, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, which established 14th Amendment protection of the right to public primary and secondary education for children who are undocumented, teachers at Acero Charter Schools clearly feel they need to reassure families that parents’ and students’ rights and safety are protected in their charter school buildings.

The Sun-Times report continues, describing a teacher’s focus on sanctuary status: “Yecenia Iturve, a fourth-grade teacher at Acero Schools, said this is one of the key issues that forced her to walk off the job Tuesday.  Many of her students have openly expressed their anxiety to her about their family’s immigration status. ‘Being a sanctuary school means that our students, and their family have a safe place to come to.  Our students need to know this is a safe place for them.'”

In her coverage at the Washington Post, Laura Meckler establishes important context for this first strike by unionized teachers at a charter school network: “More than 500 teachers and other staff members at 15 charter schools operated by the nonprofit Acero Schools walked out of the classroom after failing to reach a new contract… The educators are represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, which has organized about 25 percent of charter schools in the city. Nationally, about 11 percent of charters operate under collective bargaining agreements….  Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run, and they have drawn support from school-choice advocates such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, but also some Democrats.  Nationally, nearly 7,000 charter schools serve about 3 million students.”