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Organize the Charters

Educators with Acero charter schools strike outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters, 42 W. Madison St., before the start of the Chicago Board of Education monthly meeting, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

One of the few things about American politics making me happy in the last couple of years is that the charter scam has been fully exposed for the union-busting, profit-taking, public institution-destroying scam that it is. And thus, I am extremely happy to see the nation’s first charter school strike.

Over 500 educators in Chicago began the nation’s first strike at a charter school network on Tuesday, shutting down 15 schools serving more than 7,000 children. Teachers for the Acero Schools network rallied at local schools to call for higher pay and smaller class sizes, among other demands.

The action is the latest mass teacher protest in a year when educators have closed ranks in places where organized labor has historically been weak — first in six conservative or swing states where teachers walked out of classrooms, and now in the charter school sector, where unionization is sparse.

All of the picket lines have formed out of a dispute over public dollars — whether education funding is adequate, and what percentage of the money should go toward educator pay and classroom resources versus other costs.

“Everyone is feeding off each other and hearing this rallying cry,” said Martha Baumgarten, a fifth-grade teacher at Carlos Fuentes Elementary School in the Acero network and a member of her union’s bargaining committee. “A lot of this comes down to lack of funding. But teachers across the country are seeing each other stand up and say that’s not O.K. We’re not going to support budgets and politics as usual.”

Charters are funded by taxpayers but independently managed by nonprofit organizations, like Acero, or by for-profit companies. Educators at Acero earn up to $13,000 less than their counterparts at traditional public schools in Chicago and cannot afford to live comfortably in an increasingly expensive city, according to the Chicago Teachers Union, which represents the striking workers.

The chief executive of Acero, Richard L. 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 Schools system, which includes over 500 schools.

Oh yeah, there’s that honest charter school leadership I love. If you want education run like a business, profit-taking by the 1% is what you get!

And of course, one of the great things about teacher strikes is that they are striking not only for their own pocketbooks, which is certainly a legitimate enough reason to strike, but also for the education of our children:

In addition to higher pay for teachers and support staff, the union is asking that more money be spent on special education services for students and on a program that allows classroom assistants to continue their education and become lead teachers. The union also argues that Acero’s class sizes — up to 32 students at every grade level — are too high.

Acero says the comparatively large class sizes allow it to serve more families, noting that many of the network’s schools have wait lists. It acknowledges that its teachers, who earn an average salary of $65,000 per year, are making less than their peers in traditional schools, but says that is because of inadequate funding from the state. Mr. Rodriguez earns a salary that is competitive given his duties managing the network’s facilities and real estate, it added.

Uh huh.

More teachers strikes is what this nation needs, repealing the decades of neoliberal policies that have emphasized market solutions and privatization for public problems, using our children as an experiment in capitalism. Good funding for schools, well-trained and well-paid teachers who don’t need to work second jobs, and poverty-fighting programs. That’s how you create a better education system.

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