News & Politics

Chicago Teachers Strike Leaving 300,000 Students With Nowhere to Go

Colleen McDonough, a first-grade teacher at Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago holds a picket sign outside the school, Friday, April 1, 2016, during a one-day strike by Chicago teachers and supporters aimed at halting education funding cuts. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

For the second time in seven years, Chicago’s unionized public school teachers will go on strike. The issues are familiar: bigger paychecks for union employees, more union members hired, better health care plan, better pension, more, more, more, more…

Unfortunately, the teachers are SOL. There is no more money. Even after robbing downstate schools by changing the state’s school funding mechanism, where the Democratic legislature made sure the CPS received a bailout to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, the school funding deficit was barely covered.

And now, the union wants more — much more.

  • A 15% pay hike across the board during the next three years
  • Reduced health insurance payments
  • Hiring over 4,000 new support staff
  • 55 additional community schools

Some of the details are breathtaking:

Supports hard caps on class sizes to address overcrowding, plus stipends if caps are exceeded; hire more teachers’ assistants.

Supports hiring social workers, counselors, nurses, other clinicians at national recommended ratios; hire more case managers; full-time librarian and restorative justice coordinator in every school.

Supports raises for all, including grade increase plus steps and lanes for PSRPs to address equity for women, Black, Latinx workers.

Supports 30 minutes of essential morning prep time for elementary teachers; more self-directed, reasonable calendar; more holidays.

Supports hiring 1,000 additional needed TAs, plus other measures to achieve equity for women, Black and Latinx educators.

The city had offered a 16% raise over three years and the hiring of hundreds of additional employees. So sorry, said the teachers, it’s not enough. We walk.

The Illinois Opportunity Project, which is a big booster for charter schools, asks a simple question: “If the end goal is to provide a quality education for students, then why can’t CTU officials and members negotiate in good faith to find a solution that doesn’t require taking kids out of the classroom for an indefinite period of time?”

If the Chicago public schools were a paradigm of excellence, many of us might consider their demands worthy. But they’re not.

CTU members have a higher base salary than 99% of school districts across Illinois and the highest average salary among school districts in 10 of the nation’s top 13 largest cities.

The compensation of Chicago teachers is at odds with the academic achievements of the students. In 2018, less than one-third of CPS students were reading and doing math at grade level.

According to the Illinois Report Card, CPS teachers have a higher salary than the state average, CPS spends more money per student than the average Illinois student, but the dollar signs don’t match up with academic achievements or graduation rates.

CPS has a lower graduation rate compared to the rest of the state and a higher amount of students at Illinois community colleges taking remedial courses.

The Chicago teachers’ union is the most radical union in the country. Their demands reflect their belief that schools exist not so much to educate children but to achieve radical social justice goals for their members. The kids are a convenient prop in their little dramas, no more.

No doubt, there are many teachers who love to teach and are good at their chosen profession. Those teachers are underpaid and overworked. And then there are many teachers who want to be effective but the violence and disruptions are so bad that they should get combat pay.

But many Chicago teachers are clock-punchers and pencil-pushers, whose incompetence should have been recognized years before but they’re protected by union work rules that almost guarantee them a job for life and an extraordinarily generous pension.

The Chicago school board will resolve this strike in a few days, giving teachers everything they want. That’s been the pattern in previous strikes and there’s no reason for that to change. And once again, the school district will go into debt, funding a social justice campaign that masquerades as a school system.