Citing Chicago Strike, Illinois Lawmakers Propose Statewide School Choice

Published September 14, 2012

Citing the abysmal quality of Chicago’s public schools and the September teacher strike there, four Illinois legislators announced their support for legislation to remove the state’s cap on charter schools and create school vouchers.

“If Chicago teachers’ true concern was educating children, then they would still be in the classrooms, not in the picket lines,” said state Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Belvidere). “[The Chicago Teachers Union’s] decision to fight for huge raises is indicative of them being out of touch with what average Americans are dealing with in these tough economic times. This current situation highlights why we need to empower parents to choose an education for their children, whether that be public, charter, or private schools.”

Approximately 26,000 CTU members went on strike for seven school days, leaving the city’s 350,000 non-charter students and their parents scrambling for care. Union members cited various reasons for the strike, primarily objecting to basing one-quarter of teacher evaluations on student test score progress and to allowing principals to pick any teachers for open positions rather than only laid-off union members.

The union also objects to the increasing number of charter schools in the city. Charter schools are fully public schools but run independently and are largely nonunionized. They remained open during the strike. Approximately 19,000 Chicago students are on charter school wait lists, according to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The current charter school cap is 120, with 75 allowed in Chicago and 45 statewide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Chicago public schools have a 54 percent graduation rate. Chicago charter schools have a 76 percent graduation rate, which is close to the national average.

Charters Open, Improving Education
“Charters are open and serving students while district schools are mired in strikes and bureaucracy,” noted Heartland Institute education policy advisor Bruno Behrend. Heartland, which is based in Chicago, publishes School Reform News. “This alone is reason to rapidly expand charter schools and other choices, such as vouchers, through mechanisms like the Parent Trigger.”

Behrend joined Sosnowski, state Rep. Tom Morrison (R-Palatine), state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon), and state Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove), as well as representatives from the Illinois Policy Institute, at a press conference September 14.  Palatine and Downers Grove are Chicago suburbs.

Students attending charter schools in Chicago perform better than their peers attending district schools on every measure of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, one of the most respected nationwide tests, according to researcher Matthew Ladner. Sixty-three percent of fourth graders in Chicago charter schools score at basic proficiency or better in reading, compared to 53 percent of fourth graders in regular district schools. Those percentages are 87 and 68, respectively, for fourth grade math.

“In the midst of a Chicago Teachers Union strike, hundreds of thousands of children are being displaced amongst their peers, while those in charter and private schools are advancing daily in their educations,” McCarter said.

Image by People’s World.