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The Nation's First Charter School Strike Has Begun in Chicago

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In the country's first-ever charter teachers' strike, hundreds of educators in Chicago's Acero charter school network have walked out of their classrooms and onto the picket lines Tuesday morning.

The 15 schools across the charter network have canceled classes as more than 500 teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff members went on strike after a series of failed negotiations with management. The educators, who are members of the Chicago Teachers Union, are fighting for pay raises, smaller class sizes, and more funding for special education services.

"We're going to stay on strike until we get educational justice for the people who work in Acero charter schools," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Acero educators work more hours for less money than their peers in Chicago Public Schools, the union has said. Educators are also asking for guaranteed protections for undocumented students and families. 

On Tuesday, educators held signs that said "Fair Contract Now!," "Equal Pay for Equal Work," and "¡Padres, maestros, estudiantes UNIDOS!" (or "Parents, teachers, students united!"). 

In a heated statement, Acero Schools CEO Richard Rodriguez said union leaders were putting their "anti-charter political agenda ahead of the interests of our students," who are predominately Latino.

"The sad fact is that interests from outside our community are using our students and our schools as a means to advance their national anti-charter school platform," he said. "They don't want our schools to succeed because it doesn't serve their agenda." 

Acero was formerly known as UNO Charter Schools Network, which was plagued with scandals—including being charged in federal court with defrauding investors. The network narrowly avoided a teachers' strike in October 2016. It rebranded to Acero Schools last year.

This historic strike against a charter operator comes at the end of a year filled with unprecedented amounts of teacher activism. There were six statewide teachers' strikes and walkouts this spring, and another is brewing in Virginia

At the same time, teachers' unions are making inroads in the charter space. Earlier this year, the Chicago Teachers Union merged with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which includes Acero teachers. Teachers at four more unionized charter schools in the city—the Chicago International Charter Schools network—also voted to authorize a strike in November.

Nationally, just a small percentage of charter schools are unionized—only about 11.3 percent, according to data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. But unions have become more open to the idea of representing charter teachers in recent years, considering the charter sector to be fertile ground for new membership. Teachers' unions have suffered membership losses that are likely to continue in the wake of an adverse Supreme Court decision in June.

Negotiations between the CTU and Acero will continue later today, the Tribune reported. 

Image: Educators with Acero charter schools strike outside the Veterans Memorial Charter School Campus on Dec. 4, in Chicago. Hundreds of teachers have gone on strike at the Chicago charter school network, leading to canceled classes for thousands of students. —Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

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