Chicago Teachers Strike Leads to More School Choice Interest

Some parents around Chicago are thankful for the options given to them by the school choice movement as the city's public schools are shut down due to the strike called by the local teachers unions. All around the city, private, parochial and charter schools are reporting an uptick in interest as parents are looking for alternatives as the public schools remain shut and concerns about long-term stability increase.

Since the strike began, UNO Charter School Network, which is publicly funded but employs non-unionized teachers, has accepted 30 new students. Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of the Catholic Schools at the Archdiocese of Chicago, has been fielding a growing number of requests for entry. According to UNO's CEO Juan Rangel, who also headed up the election campaign of the city's current mayor Rahm Emanuel, he expects that the longer the strike goes on, the more interest parents are going to show in alternatives to traditional public schools.

Although both sides are claiming that they are close to reaching an agreement to get teachers back in the classrooms, it is unlikely that enough progress will be made at the end of the week or even over the weekend to allow schools to open Monday. Meanwhile, 350,000+ of the city's elementary, middle and high school students — and their families — are faced with filling their days and hoping that they don't fall too far behind.

While school has been out, parents have sought alternative care for their children at local churches, with relatives, or at "Children First" programs at 147 public schools, which have taken in children for activities for half a day for the first three days, and a full day starting Thursday.

Among the students enrolled in public schools in the city, the strike hasn't affected the 50,000 enrolled in the public charters. Expanding school choice options has been a campaign promise by Emanuel, who said that nearly 20,000 of Chicago's students would take advantage of them if the seats were available. The mayor's charter school push is one of the issues that has put him in conflict with the union representing striking teachers.

Charter schools already enroll about 12 percent of Chicago students. The Noble Network of Charter Schools has also had more inquiries in the past week, but the 12 high schools are full and can't take more students now, according to Rhonda Kochlefl, chief external affairs officer. She said 4,700 students are on the waiting list, and she expects that to increase.

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