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Commentary: How unionized charter schools benefit public education

by Chris Baehrend - ChiACTS president  |  June 22, 2017

When I was hired at my charter school in 2009, there were no computers for classroom use. There was no budget for textbooks. We were taken to an educational materials recycling center, where the only textbooks available for my speech class were published in 1979. There were almost no pictures of Latino students in those books, which is perhaps just as well, because almost all of the faces were marked up with racist comments and features.

As we started using the books, students uncovered so many derogatory markings that I soon had to rely on photocopies. But the photocopier was usually broken or out of toner. Also, the internet was often down.

Resource scarcity was not the most oppressive working condition. At the end of the previous year, every teacher and administrator had been fired. As you might imagine, the teachers walked around on tenterhooks, and no one was eager to share challenges in our classrooms for fear of being let go.

Today in my school, there are carts of new laptops, Smart Boards, new furniture and an abundance of new textbooks. Also, three of the 12 teachers from 2009 are still on staff, and our school has made steady progress on attendance and all other academic measures.

What changed? We formed a union.

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Prep periods and other end-of-year contractual issues

by ctu communications  |  June 16, 2017

As members begin to close out the school year and head out to well-deserved summer breaks, there are a number of items that the CTU Grievance Department want to make sure you are aware of for these final days of the school year.

  • The 2015-19 Contract extends preparation periods through the final instructional day of the school year.
  • Suggestion: print any paystubs you may need before leaving school since CPS has not yet established a secure way this can be done from outside of school. Your 6/23/17 pay stub should be available on 6/20/17 and can be printed prior to leaving school. You can email Payroll Services if you want to request a mailed copy of your 7/8/17 stub. Make sure you have updated your address if necessary.
  • Also, There is a form on the HR4U websIte where you can request duplicates of any back pay stubs after April 2015. You can submit up to five dates per request.
  • Make sure to label and secure anything personal you are leaving in the building and to take home personal items of value for safe storage. if you are transferring, this is especially important.
  • You should receive a tentative schedule for next year no later than this Friday.

Most important: have a great summer!

Reports Address Racism of School Closings in Englewood and Throughout CPS

by CTU Communications  |  June 15, 2017

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Education Policy Department this month released two studies on the history and damaging consequences of racial segregation in Chicago’s public schools, and the district’s relationship with the Englewood community in the wake of proposed school closings. 

Segregation and Inequality in Chicago Public Schools, Transformed and Intensified under Corporate Education Reform, originally published in the Education Policy Analysis Archives, examines the historic and contemporary dual segregation of Black teachers and Black students in CPS. The study shows how massive school closures, privatization and corporate school reform have both transformed and deepened segregation and resource-inequity across Chicago’s schools, and exposes the hypocrisy of CPS CEO Forrest Claypool’s lawsuit against the State of Illinois for racial discrimination in school funding.

Forrest said recently that he was deeply troubled that so little moral outrage had been directed at racially discriminatory school funding, but what about the moral outrage toward the racially discriminatory school district he leads? CTU President Karen Lewis said. He invokes the racist policies of the South to draw attention to inequitable school funding, but refuses to acknowledge the ways Jim Crow policies have shaped public education in our city—both in the past and under his administration.

The second study, Abandonment or Revival? What to Expect from a New High School in Englewood, discusses CPS’ plans to close Harper, Hope, TEAM Englewood and Robeson high schools despite little action in past years indicating a commitment to students living in the Englewood community. The report finds that through poor planning and segregationist policy decisions, CPS has deliberately undermined Englewood’s neighborhood high schools.

CPS has gone out of its way to sabotage those schools, yet wants parents to believe it is creating a new high school out of concern for their children, President Lewis said. But input from the most important stakeholders—teachers, families, the community—has been sorely missing from this decision, and neither CPS nor the city as a whole have done anything in the past to indicate a real commitment to Englewood.

One example the report cites is that although the number of teenagers in the neighborhood has declined in the last decade, the district has opened 11 new charter high schools. CPS also has weakened existing high schools through closures, re-districting, insufficient funding and overall neglect of the community.

Charter School Teachers Vote To Join Public Schools Union

by Associated Press, Greta Johnsen  |  June 12, 2017

Members of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the union representing teachers at the city's charter schools, have voted to join the Chicago Teachers Union.


ChiACTS officials announced Friday that 671 of its members voted to consolidate with the CTU, while 130 members opposed the merger.

The consolidation won’t go through until the 25,000 members of the CTU vote on the issue.

“We expected that our brothers and sisters that are in the unionized charter school local were going to support unification, but we didn’t expect it to be such an overwhelming margin,” said Chicago Teacher’s Union.staff coordinator Jackson Potter.

Charter schools and public schools may seem to be at odds, but Potter says most teachers see more common ground than opposition.

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CTU statement on CPS plans to close Englewood high schools

by CTU Communications  |  June 09, 2017

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union today issued the following statement regarding Chicago Public Schools plans to close Harper, Hope, Robeson and TEAM Englewood high schools and funnel students into a new, $75 million high school in the Englewood community.

“The Chicago Teachers Union supports well-resourced school communities that help our students pursue their dreams and open doors, but we know far too well that school closings can lead to feelings of abandonment and a loss of learning. The teachers and staff at Harper, Hope, Robeson and TEAM Englewood not only provide stability in their students’ lives, but also create classroom spaces where students can connect with one another, process their experiences and help make decisions about their communities.

“With unemployment at Great Depression-era levels in Englewood, a forced mass exodus of African-American families out of Chicago, violence epidemic and affordable housing shortage, school closings are another way for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to sabotage the community at its time of greatest need. Consolidating four high schools into one building is the mayor doubling down on a disastrous and irresponsible gentrification scheme that has already removed scores of African-American residents from the city.

“Many of the teachers and staff at these schools are African-American women who have already experienced consolidations and closures at schools such as South Shore and Calumet high schools. Getting rid of these educators, who anchor a destabilized community through their knowledge and economic support, will exacerbate the mayor’s already heinous neglect.

“Instead of closing schools, we should be fortifying them. Instead of pushing families out of the community through the acceleration of high-end developments, we need to provide housing near our schools, a public sector jobs program and a robust array of services and supports inside of our school buildings to address the needs of our communities.”


The Chicago Teachers Union represents nearly 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at

CTU member in running for best activist in Chicago Reader Best of Chicago 2017

by CTU Communications  |  June 06, 2017

ILLUSTRATION: Sarah Chambers

Sarah Chambers is currently suspended from her position as a special education teacher at Saucedo Elementary School. She's helped lead a CTU campaign to increase investment in special education and use TIF funds to support our most vulnerable students, and has been targeted for firing by CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and the district because of her activism. 

Vote for Sarah in the Chicago Reader poll for 2017's best activist!


Legislative victories restore democracy and accountability for Chicago Public Schools

June 02, 2017

State legislature passes measures to create elected Chicago school board, charter accountability, privilege tax to close loophole that gave billionaires lower tax rate than many working class residents.

SPRINGFIELD—In an eleventh-hour victory for public accountability and democracy, the Illinois Senate this week passed a veto-proof bill to grant Chicagoans an elected school board—currently the only school district in the state whose residents are denied this right. State Representative Robert Martwick and State Senator Kwame Raoul have been linchpins in the legislative effort to win passage of HB1774, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel continues to oppose despite two ballot initiatives that produced a groundswell of public support for an elected school board. The bill could go to Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk for signature as early as July 1, 2017.

“It’s time for the mayor to face the fact that Chicago’s public schools need more than new streams of revenue—residents also need a new governing structure for schools rooted in democracy, not authoritarian rule from City Hall,” said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “This hard-won legislation celebrates the power of grassroots organizing and strikes a powerful blow in righting the wrongs of an elitist, undemocratic corporate agenda that disenfranchises residents and undermines neighborhood public schools.”

HB1774 was the last bill passed by the Senate on May 31, 2017 before the body adjourned into continuous session. The bill now goes back to the House—which also passed a veto-proof version of the bill earlier this year—for reconciliation. CTU rank-and-file members have worked for years with grassroots groups to win the right for Chicago voters to elect school board members.

The Senate also passed HB768, sponsored by State Representative Chris Welch, which derails the power of the unelected and unaccountable Illinois State Charter School Commission to override decisions of local school boards across the state in charter school matters. The legislation also effectively derails the ability of corporate charter operators to expand outside the means of their finances.

“This is an important victory that restricts the ability of profit-taking charter operators to exploit public dollars for private gain, and restores charter oversight to local school boards and community residents,” said CTU Legislative and Political Director Stacy Davis Gates. “The legislation provides a potent lever to push charter management companies to use their resources to enrich existing learning communities.”

In a victory for both tax fairness and public finances, the Senate passed SB1719, a bill sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss that closes a tax loophole that has allowed hedge fund billionaires like Governor Rauner and Ken Griffin to pay a lower tax rate than millions of working class Illinois residents. The bill, identical to HB3393, could raise as much as $1.7 billion per year in new annual revenue, and the House has extended its deadline to June 30, 2017 to consider the Senate bill, with proponents expecting the House to take action on the bill by the end of the month.

“This bill and the tremendous victory of legislation that raises Illinois’ minimum wage will help remedy financial inequality and put real resources back into our neighborhoods,” Davis Gates said. The minimum wage legislation has also been sent to Governor Rauner for his signature.

The CTU and its allies are also pushing Senate President John Cullerton to take action on HB1253, which the House passed, to restore full collective bargaining rights for Chicago educators on issues that range from class size to runaway privatization—issues teachers charge have undermined the employment of people of color in Chicago’s public schools. The CTU is also urging Cullerton to move on HB3720, a bill to bring true transparency to the murky world of tax increment financing and direct TIF funds to severely underfunded special education and trauma services in public schools, particularly in communities challenged by street violence.

Both chambers have also passed SB1 with razor-thin majorities. The bill changes the school funding formula to an evidence based-model. Various analyses of the bills point to improved equity in distribution of education funds across the state, with lower-income districts to receive additional dollars first.

“This is an important step in improving education funding for our most impoverished school districts, but with that said, the real issue with Illinois’ school funding formula is the amount of money we put into it,” Vice President Sharkey said. “There is no way to address Illinois’ school funding challenges without putting a truly significant amount of new money into the formula—and we urge the governor to produce a budget to equitably and adequately fund K-12 education throughout the state.”


The Chicago Teachers Union represents nearly 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at

From PSRP to Certified Teacher with GYO

by CTU Communications  |  May 25, 2017

Grow Your Own for PSRPs

Learn More

Have you always wanted to be a teacher?

Do you have a passion for
your community and social justice?

GYO might be for you!

GYO helps community members like you—individuals committed to education, justice and young people—become teachers. GYO provides tuition assistance, tutoring and test preparation. With GYO’s assistance, you will complete a traditional college degree and become a certified teacher. In return for the supports and assistance provided by GYO, graduates are required to teach at least five years in a high needs school.

To be eligible you must have:

  • A GED or high school diploma
  • A desire and commitment to teach in a high needs school for at least 5 years
  • Demonstrated commitment to your community
  • At least an 18 on the ACT

GYO will be accepting applications for new teacher candidates to begin the program Fall 2017. The application materials and instructions are available now at

The application deadline is July 1 and the process requires references and other documentation that may take some time to collect. So don’t delay, start the process A.S.A.P.!

After you have reviewed the application, you can email GYO Executive Director Kate VanWinkle with any remaining questions. Please do not email her until you have first reviewed the application process.

Apply Now!

Chicago Teachers Union Grow Your Own Teachers Chicago Teachers Union Foundation

Charter teachers reach tentative agreement with Passages, narrowly averting first charter strike in U.S. history

by passages council  |  May 25, 2017

CHICAGO, May 25, 2017: Union educators at Passages Charter School signed off on a tentative agreement Wednesday night for their first contract since unionizing a year ago -- narrowly averting what would have been the first strike of a charter operator in U.S. history.
“Had we not unionized, we could never have gotten to this tentative agreement tonight -- and taken such strong steps to begin to improve classroom conditions and win fair pay for our members,” said Gina Mengarelli, a member of Passages’ ChiACTS bargaining team. “We’re so grateful for the overwhelming support we have received over the course of the past year from our students’ families, the community, and the labor movement. There is nothing more important to us than our students, and we’re glad that we have been able to make progress on improving our school in ways that will produce tangible benefits for our students. We look forward to working with AHS to make sure that the school is able to provide the best education possible to the children and families we serve. And we look forward to being in class with our students on Thursday!”
Passages’ union educators -- who work longer days for less pay than the vast majority of educators at Chicago’s other charter schools -- won major concessions from management, including in wages for teachers, a third of whom currently earn less than $40,000 for a work week that can top 60 hours.
Based on salaries at the end of 2016, and for the life of the three-year contract, salaries for union educators will go up an average of 21.5% and a median of 19%, with the lowest-paid educators -- some of whom earn less than $25,000 per year -- looking at increases of over 40%
The tentative agreement also makes major strides in critical non-economic issues, including increasing teacher voice in decisions that affect students, providing safe and healthy working and learning conditions, and putting in place a fair and collaborative teacher evaluation system. Class size limits are held to 28 students, and the agreement includes language that provides for more meaningful prep time for teachers.
In the coming days, the union’s bargaining team will be presenting the tentative agreement to its membership, with discussion and a vote on ratification to follow in the coming weeks.
Key sticking points before Wednesday night’s marathon bargaining session included management’s persistent opposition to greater financial transparency, insufficient resources to support classrooms, and wage proposals that consistently failed to address rock-bottom wages for teachers and other front-line workers -- including management’s proposal to tie modest wage increases to layoffs of  more than 10% of union staff. Among management’s proposed layoffs: the school’s only counselor, whose portfolio ranges from emotional support for students to helping young people apply for high school.
“These brave teachers have fought for and now won a contract that will make critical improvements in their school,” said Chris Baehrend, president of the Passages’ educators’ union, ChiACTS Local 4343. “These teachers have also built power for charter teachers nationwide, teaching by example, that when teachers exercise their collective power as a union, they can do even more for their students. This is a strong contract -- and a strong contract makes a school better, which helps students attain the brighter futures that we know they are capable of.”
This was the third strike authorization of ChiACTS members in the last seven months. “Our educators at charter schools are servants of the public and their students, not the private businesses that cut our paychecks -- and too often cut our budgets -- while maintaining high management salaries,” said Baehrend. “Unions are the solution to the problem of our tax dollars being privatized by management companies, while our students’ educational needs get a lower priority. That’s why unions will continue to grow and assert their voices in charter schools. Our union is the democratic voice for our teachers and, as our teachers’ voice, in daily cooperation with students and parents, speaks for our schools.”
Passages was one of the first charter schools created in Chicago, and today serves just under 500 students—including a large population of immigrant and refugee students of Asian and African heritage. The school’s 46 union educators — teachers, teachers assistants and paraprofessionals — were certified last April as members of ChiACTS Local 4343, which represents 32 charter schools in Chicago. The school’s educators began negotiating for a new contract in May of 2016.

Fall 2017 Administrative Transfer Deadline Extended

by CTU Communications  |  May 24, 2017

The Chicago Public Schools has extended the deadline for individuals to transfer to another school without principal approval. CTU members can accept a new position up until June 20, 2017.

Chicago Teachers Union