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Charter teachers support charter accountability

4/25/2014
Earlier this month, in an interview on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight”, Chicago International Charter Schools President and trial attorney David Chizewer said that “charter schools are more accountable than traditional public schools.”
 
Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you want to know what's going on in charter schools, ask the people who work in the classrooms. Members of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS), Local 4343 teachers and staff are committed to creating the best possible learning environment for over 10,000 Chicago students at charter schools every day.

We organized unions in schools that have often been hostile, anti-labor environments, in order to have a voice for our students and our profession, but the lack of accountability for charter holders and operators is a disservice to the kids in our classrooms. This is why we are speaking up now in favor of legislation that mandates more accountability for charters.  Our students deserve better.

Contrary to the belief that charters are private schools, Illinois’ charter schools are funded almost entirely with public education dollars, but charter management organizations (CMOs) are not required to follow the same financial or operational standards as traditional public schools. The absence of such accountability has created easy opportunities for abuse of the public’s tax dollars and trust.

As a union of over 800 teachers (roughly 23% of teachers at Chicago charters) at 29 schools, we support legislation before the Illinois General Assembly that will hold charter organizations more accountable and stop the proliferation of for-profit CMOs. We support the Charter School Accountability Act (SB 588), because the bill will force charter operators to spend a greater percentage of the public dollars they receive on instruction—actually educating children—rather than on expansive bureaucracy that does little to improve the lives of our youth.  

Currently, CMOs, some of which are for-profit organizations, can collect exorbitant fees that should be earmarked for improving the educational environments in our classrooms. Instead, they use this money to pay CEO salaries that have been in excess of a quarter of a million dollars—more than the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, who oversees far more schools, all funded from the same pot of money, our tax dollars. This bill caps management fees at 20% of the schools’ operating budgets and limits charter CEO salaries to $200,000.

The Charter School Accountability Act also addresses unfair admissions processes, enforces equal reporting standards, and ensures that public education funding follows students, who are all-too-often expelled from charters, back to district schools during the year. It also eliminates conflicts of interest involving CMOs. A recent example of such a conflict occurred at the UNO Charter School Network, where former CEO Juan Rangel was forced to resign after his tenure as CEO produced no-bid contracts for relatives of top executives and sparked an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

We support another piece of legislation that would strengthen charter school accountability, HB5328, because we believe that families and communities should have a voice in how charter schools are being run. This legislation demands that a charter school operating with the City of Chicago be administered by Local School Council (LSC). Every other Chicago Public School is accountable to its parents and communities rather than the secretive board of a private business. Our parents deserve a voice in their schools, too.

For the past five years, there has been a moratorium on charter school legislation that was agreed to by teachers unions, the school board, and charter proponents following a battle over the “cap” on how many charter schools could exist in Illinois. The moratorium expired last June, and this legislative season is an opportune time for common-sense legislative reform, so that private companies stop siphoning off educational tax dollars. The taxes Illinoisans pay to educate our children should support classrooms where our youth achieve greatness, rather than line the pockets of education privatizers.

For these reasons, ChiACTS and our statewide union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), support these bills. When charter schools and their management organizations are accountable to the students, families, and neighborhoods they serve, everybody wins.

— To learn more about ChiACTS, visit http://www.chicagoacts.org/

— For a quick overview and “debate” on charter schools, check out this great article, including ChiACTS Vice President and English teacher Chris Baehrend.
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