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The Nation's First Charter School Strike Has Ended With a Union Victory


The first-ever teachers' strike against a charter school operator has ended after four days.

The Chicago Teachers Union announced on Sunday that the bargaining team for the educators at the Acero charter school network reached a tentative deal with management. The deal agrees to raise pay for teachers and paraprofessionals to better align with their peers in Chicago Public Schools, to reduce class sizes, and to provide sanctuary for undocumented students.

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The tentative agreement will now be voted on by the 500 union members who work in Acero charter schools. It's expected to pass—classes across the 15-school network are expected to resume today.

"Thanks to hard work and very long hours from both bargaining teams, we were able to reach an agreement that values teachers and staff for the important work they do, while still maintaining the attributes of our network that help produce strong educational outcomes for our students," Acero Schools CEO Richard L. Rodriguez said in a statement.

The tentative deal also shortens the school year and reduces the teachers' work day to more closely align with Chicago Public Schools. Acero changed the way the school day is structured to ensure the same amount of instructional time for students, the statement said.

Union leaders are now heralding the victory as the path forward for educators at charter schools. Just about 11 percent of charter schools across the country are unionized, according to data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. (In Chicago, about a quarter of the city's charter schools are unionized.)

But teachers' unions have become more open to the idea of representing charter teachers in recent yearsThe Chicago Teachers Union had merged with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which includes Acero teachers, just this year.

"We are now a movement that commands national attention and can stop a city," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. "The message to educators at charters is that if you want smaller classes, a voice on the job, and higher pay, give the union a call."

In an interview with Education Week last weekRobert Bruno, a professor at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said a successful strike could have major implications for the unionization movement in charter schools. 

"This strike is not only on behalf of the current members, it's that other contingent—the 75 percent [of Chicago charter schools that are not unionized]—who are also watching very closely," Bruno said. "[The CTU's] ability to organize the other networks would be significantly improved if they're successful in this strike."

Acero was formerly known as UNO Charter Schools Network, which was plagued with scandals—including being charged in federal court with defrauding investors. It rebranded to Acero Schools last year.

Image: Caroline Rutherford embraces Andy Crooks during a news conference at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters that announced the end of the strike on Dec. 9. —Colin Boyle/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

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