The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on August 29 filed a notice with the Illinois Labor Relations Board informing the board that Chicago teachers and school staff may be going on strike in ten days. CTU has been in contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) since November and is now working under an expired contract.
Earlier this summer, 89 percent of all CTU members voted to authorize a strike if a fair agreement could not be reached. Of those who actually voted, 98 percent supported authorizing a strike.
“This is a difficult decision for all of us to make,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU. “But this is the only way to get the (school) board’s attention and show them that we are serious about getting a fair contract which will give our students the resources they deserve.”
Lewis said that the union continues negotiating with CPS in hopes of averting a strike but added that actions by the CPS school board since contract talks began in November suggest that the board is more interested in antagonizing teachers and school staff than in trying to reach a fair agreement.
“(The school board) denied us our 4 percent raise when there was money in the budget,” said Lewis referring to the board’s decision last November not to pay teachers and staff a raise agreed to in previous bargaining.
“They attempted to ram a poorly thought out longer school day down our throats, and on top of that they want us to teach a new curriculum and be ready to be evaluated based on how well students do on standardized tests. Enough is enough,” she added.
CTU’s priority in its negotiations with CPS is improving education opportunities for the children they teach. The union is asking the board to provide sufficient funds for teaching a broad curriculum that includes world languages, art, and physical education and enhanced student services such as counseling. To maximize children’s learning opportunities, the union is also asking for manageable class sizes and adequate preparation time.
But so far the board has balked at providing adequate funding. Instead, “we have chronic underfunding and misplaced priorities,” said Jen Johnson, a high school teacher and CTU member. “CPS would rather shut down schools rather than give them the resources they need.”
Since 2002, the CPS has shut down about 100 public schools while funneling more money into privately operated charter schools. And the school board under direction of Mayor Rahm Emanuel is eager to expand funding of charter schools even if it means underfunding public schools.
Emanuel in January appeared in a video produced by a pro-charter foundation and Fox News analyst Juan Williams. During Emanuel’s interview with Williams, Emanuel praised charter schools and bashed teacher unions.
Emanuel is not alone. The opportunity to privatize public education in Chicago is supported by a host of hedge fund operators such as Kenneth Griffin of Citadel Investment Group and Steve Barr and other members of the financial elite such as Penny Pritzker whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain.
Emanuel and his wealthy supporters would like to see the number of charter schools in Chicago double even though there is no empirical data showing that charter schools improve student learning. In fact, last year the Chicago News Cooperative reported that charter schools actually had a lower percentage of students exceeding state standards than public schools.
According to Lewis, the desire to underfund public schools and divert more money to charter schools will make the education crisis even worse. “This education crisis is real especially if you are Black or Brown in Chicago,” Lewis said. “Whenever our students perform well on tests, (the school board) moves the bar higher, tells them they are failures, and blames their teachers. Now they want to privatize public education and further disrupt our neighborhoods. We’ve seen public housing shut down, public health clinics, public libraries and now public schools. There is an attack on public institutions, many of which serve, low-income and working-class families.”