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Lessons from the teachers strike at Chicago International Charter School

CTU President Jesse Sharkey (right) and VIce President Stacy Davis Gates at a rally outside the Thompson Center. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Nearly 2,000 students and 200 Chicago Teachers Union educators returned to Chicago International Charter School classrooms last week after a nine-day strike. The work stoppage — the second against a Chicago charter network this school year — won CICS teachers and support staff a contract that limits class sizes, improves school safety, addresses sanctuary school protection and guarantees full-time staffing of teaching assistants in every kindergarten through second-grade classroom.

Our members put in tremendous work at the bargaining table and on picket lines in bone-chilling weather to win major improvements for their schools. As a union of educators, our job is to teach, but we are also learning a valuable lesson from our battles with the charter industry: The interests of charter operators differ from the interests of educators and students.

Charter management companies use the law to move funding away from classrooms and students, and towards non-educator business people who (mostly) make up charter boards of directors. By coordinating demands across charter companies — and with our members at CPS-run schools — public school pay scales have become a legitimate expectation for charter educators. By strategically using these campaigns to raise issues that are mandatory and strike-worthy bargaining subjects in the private sector, our members at charter schools are helping to set the standard for the contract campaign for district members on several fronts, including class sizes, staffing and special ed compliance.

This changes the idea of what is possible in charter school organizing, if you are willing to build a union that defends public education and grapples with tough questions about the nature of the charter industry. Our movement is putting funding and autonomy back into the control of parents, educators and students. That’s democracy.​

Jesse Sharkey, president, Chicago Teachers Union

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Gov. Pritzker’s budget is just the same old, same old on debt

In the short time J.B. Pritzker has been governor, literally every decision he has made has increased Illinois’ debt. His budget address proved that. His promises for big spending may please the Democratic voters who supported him, but they have no chance of succeeding if Gov. Pritzker also holds true to his promises to provide income and property tax relief to the middle class.

Pritzker said we must keep our commitments on pensions, but his budget suggests shorting the pension systems by $1 billion, with no reform! That’s the same mistake previous governors made, and it’s definitely not “a bold new idea.” Like many of his Democratic colleagues, Pritzker can’t seem to figure out the concept of balancing a checkbook and spending reform.

Despite talk of bipartisan efforts to balance the budget, Pritzker is falling into the same old story of finding new ways to tax the good people of Illinois: his progressive income tax proposal. More taxes without spending reform is inexcusable. There is a hole in our budget boat. A responsible leader figures out a way to plug the holes. Pritzker’s plan is for us to buy bigger buckets.

John Corry, North Center