The Corner

Chicago Restricts Charter Schools to Stop a Strike by Unionized Teachers

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) got the tentative deal they wanted Monday night and a strike has been averted, but hidden in the complex collective-bargaining negotiations is an unprecedented attack on school choice directly from the teachers’ union.

What makes this deal unique is that it includes an item restricting any growth of charter schools in the whole district — both new schools from opening and existing schools from increasing current enrollment. CTU sees the restriction of charters as part and parcel of their unionized teachers’ salary and job security.

Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey said Tuesday that the problem with charter expansion is that it has not been done democratically. That’s an odd line of attack given that charter schools depend on voluntary enrollment and their growth is in response to unmet demand for adequate public schools.

No students are being forced to use charter schools rather than their district schools. The only way that charters “hurt” traditional public schools is when families decide, en masse, that they need to escape their district school and send their children to a charter. Teachers unions and their allies like to describe this as “draining resources and students,” which is true in the sense that automobile production “drained resources” from horse-drawn carriage production. The CTU calculation is that it is in their interest to restrict families’ choices and punish them if they are seeking charter-school education.

This is about more than compensation: CTU is playing the long game. It can continue to exploit children through a closed market only if families have no other options. Yes, they could continue to negotiate for deals that give them further generous pay raises and job protections, but just as important is to halt competition that would slow the gravy train.

There would be no “draining of resources and students” if families weren’t fleeing these schools. That is the actual story here.

This may be the first instance of a collective-bargaining agreement including a provision capping all charter-school expansion, but expect other unions to push for similar deals. More pay for worse performance is unsustainable when consumers can freely choose to go elsewhere. It only makes sense that teachers’ unions want to maintain their monopoly.