Here's Why April 1 Is a Big Day for Chicago's Public Charter Schools, Too

Mar 31, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Maureen Kelleher

All eyes are on Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) plans for a one-day strike on Friday. Parents are scrambling to find places to put their children for the day while they go to work. This is exactly the kind of situation I admit I was happy to know I could avoid when my child was called from the waitlist and started at Namaste Charter School. On Friday my child will attend school as usual, and yes, I’m relieved. But April 1 is a big day for the charter school community, too. The district’s budget crisis has forced it to reduce the money sent to charter schools per pupil. Charters will feel the hit for the fourth quarter. At Namaste, our leadership has assured us that their fundraising has been strong enough to ensure teachers and students won’t feel the impact this school year. And they expect we will be able to keep our teachers for next year. But starting new programs, and even strengthening some current ones, might have to wait. Compared to what other schools in Chicago—both district and charter-run—are going through, we are very fortunate.

I’m a Public School Parent, Too

Even though I’m a charter school parent, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what the CTU has to say about the problems with education funding and how to solve them. They’re right that Illinois needs a progressive income tax to raise the revenue needed for essential public services, including schools. They’re right that toxic debt swaps enrich bankers and deprive our children of educational resources. They’re right that Chicago needs tax increment financing (TIF) reform. But a one-day strike is more likely to annoy CTU’s most precious allies— parents—than to pressure targets like the mayor and the governor into changing their policies. Frankly, we need to think bigger and bolder to make the kinds of changes CTU is proposing. Right now it seems like the only way to pressure our governor into even a basic state budget would be to take the entire city of Chicago down to Springfield on buses and shut down the capitol until a budget agreement is reached. Or push the legislature to vote to recall him. Rather than engage in tit-for-tat wrangling with the district, I’d like to see union members, district leaders, and parents from all our Chicago public schools connect with college students and faculties statewide and take on the budget crisis. It will take some serious organizing across the state and at least one election cycle to get us a governor and a legislature with the fortitude to create a permanent progressive income tax in a state that has resisted it for decades. Even passing a smaller measure designed to equalize education funding for the neediest schools will be an uphill battle. We charter parents cannot and must not avoid these fights. [pullquote]“Charter schools are public schools” can’t be a slogan we throw around when we feel like it, and ignore when public schools are under threat.[/pullquote] To ensure all our children attend schools with the teachers, materials and environment they need to thrive, Illinois needs to get out of the funding basement. And that won’t happen unless all of us get involved.

Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Director at Future Ed. She was formerly Editorial Partner at Ed Post and is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to magazine covering Chicago’s public schools. There, her reporting won awards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the International Reading Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

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