Chicago Teacher Union Aims for Charter School Restrictions

Published January 1, 2003

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) lost bargaining powers as part of 1996 legislation giving the mayor of Chicago control of the city’s public schools. But a bill (Senate Bill 1240) that came close to being approved during the “lame-duck” session of the Illinois legislature last December would have restored limited bargaining powers to the union. The bill also would have lifted the cap on charter schools in Chicago from 15 to 30, but at the price of four other amendments imposing severe restrictions on charter school operations.

The legislation had won strong support not only from the CTU and most Chicago labor unions but also business groups and Mayor Daley. While the ban on strikes would have continued, CTU bargaining rights over schedules, staffing, layoffs, student assessment, and class sizes would have been restored. But retiring Senate President James “Pate” Philip refused to allow a vote on the bill, saying it “waters down school reform.”

The bill’s promise to lift the charter cap was welcomed by charter supporters, since the existing 15 charters in Chicago have all been granted and additional proposals for schools have been waiting for an opportunity to apply. Also, there are some 4,000 children on Chicago charter school waiting lists.

Although raising the cap is not something the Chicago Teachers Union would normally favor, the other amendments were concessions to the union view that charter schools are institutions in need of regulation and restriction. The union influence was most obvious in the amendment requiring existing charter schools in Chicago to employ at least 75 percent conventionally certified teachers, with new charters required to employ at least 50 percent conventionally certified teachers. Currently, charter schools have no teacher certification requirements.

The most restrictive amendment proposed in the bill would have limited new Chicago charter schools to a single campus. That would have halted one of the most promising innovations spawned under the current charter school law.

Another amendment would have imposed a 30-month moratorium on Chicago charter schools engaging the services of for-profit management companies. By law, Illinois charter schools must be operated by not-for-profit organizations but, like conventional public schools, they may contract with for-profit and other not-for-profit corporations for goods and services. Senate Bill 1240 would have restricted that right.

Finally, Chicago charter schools would have been required to annually administer any other nationally recognized standardized tests administered by the Chicago Public Schools. Charter schools are already required to annually administer the state’s own standardized achievement tests.

Although the bill will die if Philip continues to deny a vote during the last two days of the legislative session, January 6 and 7, the legislation will almost certainly be reintroduced as soon as the new General Assembly convenes.

Paul Seibert is director of Charter Consultants, Inc., a division of The Governor French Academy, Inc., of Belleville, Illinois. His email address is [email protected]