Teachers’ Strike Boosts Interest in Chicago’s Privately Run Charter Schools

By Patrick Burke | September 14, 2012 | 8:30 AM EDT

A large group of public school teachers marches past John Marshall Metropolitan High School on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 in West Chicago. Teachers walked off the job Monday for the first time in 25 years over issues that include pay raises, classroom conditions, job security and teacher evaluations. (AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong)

(CNSNews.com) – Tens of thousands of Chicago students are hoping to gain admission to one of Chicago’s 110 charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run – and are still in session while public school teachers are on strike.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, told CNSNews.com that since the beginning of the Chicago Teachers’ Union strike, his office has been flooded with calls from parents asking for information on charter schools.

“We’ve got 19,000 students on wait lists in the city of Chicago,” he said. “We are seeing an increase in parent demand over the past two months generally, but in the past two days as the strike has been going on, a huge spike in calls to our office from parents seeking options.”

“I think what’s happening is that parents of regular public school students are seeing their neighbors and their colleagues send children to charter schools and because of that are now looking for options for themselves,” Broy said.

Dr. Beth Purvis, CEO of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, hailed the lengthy waiting list as a positive reflection on the performance of Chicago’s charter schools – and the public’s demand for those schools.

“Every charter public school has the autonomy to be different,” Purvis said.

Although charter schools are public schools, they are free of many of the regulations that apply to other public schools and most of the teachers are non-union. This “allows for greater flexibility and innovation in the classroom,” says the INCS website.

Some 52,000 children are enrolled in Chicago’s charter schools, compared with the 350,000 who attend public schools. Charter schools are open enrollment, tuition-free, and accept students on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Chicago Public School system reportedly plans to create 60 more charter schools over five years.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union strike began on Monday after Union leaders walked out of contract negotiations in a dispute that mostly centers on teacher evaluations and job security.

In a Sept. 13 op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, voiced opposition to the planned expansion of Chicago charter schools.

"Chicagoans need to understand what is happening to our school system," Lewis wrote. "The mayor and his hedge fund allies are going to replace our democratically-controlled public schools with privately-run charter schools. This will have disastrous results and people need to rise up and refuse. As a parent, do you really want your child wearing a three-piece polyester suit every day to school and pay a fine every time your child’s tie isn’t on straight?"

Nationwide, there are an estimated 5,000 public charter schools operating in 41 states and D.C., serving more than 1.6 million students.