Coons: A charter with God?

chicago charter strike
The nation’s first strike by charter school teachers is underway in Chicago.

In Chicago, the teachers from a system of fifteen charter schools that serve 7,000 mostly Hispanic students have gone on strike. These schools are among the few charters in the country that are unionized.

Well, good luck to them all, but it is only fair to remind these folks of the essentially private and voluntary nature of these schools, and the risk that this entails. In the private sector, parents freely choose. A strike by teachers, just as a strike by widget makers, puts their own employment at risk. Their company’s product has competitors all hoping to see another one of them go belly-up.

Private schools are widget makers, only more so. Their customers have trusted them with care of the most valuable of all goods, to provide them the only service that is compulsory for every family. There is many another supplier waiting to serve these parents and children. Consider the competitive effect that the birth of public charters had upon the Catholic schools serving low income families in the inner-city. Consider the hovering presence of other choosable charters (and traditional public) schools upon these charter schools now under strike.

One possibly positive message of strike like these in Chicago is the clarity bestowed upon the truly private nature of charters. One day that reality may serve a high purpose in litigation before the Supreme Court. The issue will be whether ban of religion in the charters schools of Illinois or any other state prohibits the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment of our federal constitution.

Whether a school that teaches religion would want to put up with any of this very minor general regulation of charters would pose a judgment for its management. My expectation would be that many a faith-based school would find the burden tolerable.


  1. Jack-

    Do you have a concern regarding “excessive entanglement” that might arise from religious charters? The first lawsuit that Clint Bolick filed at the Goldwater Institute involved the question of whether it was okay for the highest performing charters in Arizona to teach World History before American History. Arizona’s academic standards mandated American history then World History, but the highest performing charters in the state thought that students would appreciate American history at a deeper level if they had a grounding in World History first. Eventually there was a settlement, but its not hard to imagine this sort of thing coming to even more grief with religion involved.

    • Dear Matt et al.

      Good. Yes, entanglement could be a problem depending upon the kind of relation the “charter” in each case creates. If the document ls simply silent on the subject of “religion”, I think it should be ok. The concern for “entanglement” seems to have been softpedaled in recent years, but, yes, it lurks. And thanks for reminding us.


  2. Jack-

    Thanks for your response. I’m certainly against discrimination against religious groups, and I agree that recent court cases may point to a future where relgious groups can charter schools. I think we may see some experiments in that direction, but my spidey sense tingles that this course may prove problematic. My spidey sense has been known to act up however so let’s see what happens next.