Editorial: Late-paying charter schools fail Chicago civics class

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Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund Executive Director Chuck Burbridge says the fund needs to pursue required payments form charter schools. | Sun-Times file photo

Follow @csteditorialsIf charter schools hope to grab a bigger share of the educational landscape — an opportunity that beckons under the incoming Trump administration — they would be smart to do a better job of demonstrating they are good citizens.

In Chicago, that might begin with paying their pension bills on time.

A Better Government Association report in Monday’s Sun-Times disclosed that the pension fund for Chicago public school teachers has had to levy at least $1.8 million in fines on several city charter schools that have failed to ponying up on time for their share of pension costs.


Follow @csteditorialsCharter school teachers are in the same pension fund as their public school counterparts, and both the teachers and their schools must pay into the fund. Unlike regular public schools, though, some charters repeatedly have been late with their remittances. That money is invested by the funds. When it comes in late, revenues fall and the fund sinks ever deeper into trouble.

Charter schools, if they wished, easily could point fingers at irresponsible governments at every level, from Chicago to the State of Illinois, that have dug themselves into deep financial holes by underfunding pension systems for decades. But that’s all the more reason for charters not to do the same.

Going back to 2013, the teacher pension fund has recorded more than $10 million in delinquent charter school contributions. Some of that may be due to confusion over rules or computer glitches. But that $10 million equals about half of what all charter schools together must pay in a given year. Late payments on that scale can quickly blow a pretty big hole in the pension fund.

Fifty-eight charter school networks operate 125 elementary and secondary schools in the Chicago. That’s almost a fifth of the total number of public schools in the city. The pension fund already is so horribly underfunded that it has only 52 percent of the money it needs to cover its obligations. When charters don’t chip in their fair share on time, they become a big part of the problem.

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