Chicago walk-ins demonstrate solidarity for public education

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union, parents, students, and community supporters on February 17 rallied before school started at nearly 200 Chicago schools.

When the school day began, those at the rallies walked to the schools together to show their support for the union’s proposals for improving Chicago’s public schools.

The purpose of the walk-ins said a CTU flyer announcing the event was to show that “we stand together to tell the mayor that bankers cannot profit while schools are cut. We demand sustainable revenue solutions for the quality education that (Chicago Public Schools) students deserve.”

CTU is currently negotiating with Chicago’s Board of Education, which is appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for a new collective bargaining agreement.

In the negotiations, the union is demanding smaller class sizes, relief from unnecessary paperwork that interferes with teaching, adequate time for lesson preparation, and services that students and their families need.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is facing a budget deficit of $500 million. Mayor Emanuel and his board of education want to address the deficit by laying off teachers, cutting their pay, and increasing their health care payments.

Instead of cuts, the union is proposing better schools and a better way to pay for them.

One of the union’s proposals is for the city to use unspent money in its Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) accounts to fund public education.

Over the years, the city has diverted billions of dollars in tax revenue, including revenue for public education, into TIF accounts to subsidize developers’ economic redevelopment projects.

The TIF Illumination Project has reported that the city’s TIF bank accounts have $1.4 billion in unspent money.

CTU in its contract negotiations is proposing that $700 million of this unspent TIF money be redirected back into CPS’ budget.

The union is also proposing that CPS and the city take legal action to recover some of the $500 million that the school district has paid in bank fees to predatory lenders.

With this and other revenue sources that the union has proposed, CPS could afford to make the improvements to education that CTU is proposing without having to cut pay or lay off educators and support staff.

At the walk-in rallies and community meetings held prior to the walk-ins, union members updated parents, teachers, and community members on the status of the union’s negotiations with CPS.

They reported that some progress has been made.

The school board agreed to less standardized testing, work space for speech therapists, nurses, and other clinicians, some paperwork reductions, a freeze on adding new charter schools, and some improvement in teacher evaluation.

The union however, rejected the school board’s proposal because it “had too many ways (for the board) to back out and not follow through with good promises.”

Also, Mayor Emanuel and his school board were not proposing a “sustainable” way to fund public schools.

In addition to using unspent TIF money and recovering fees from predatory lenders, the union is proposing a sustainable education funding structure that includes a progressive income tax, a millionaire’s tax, and a tax on stock trades.

The union also wants to close tax loopholes that divert much needed school funds into corporate coffers.

The success of the February 17 walk-ins in which thousands of Chicagoans demonstrated their solidarity for public education is the result of good organizing work.

The union began planning the walk-ins in January.

At the January meeting of its House of Delegates, the union’s governing body, delegates who represent union members at school building level were asked to take the lead in organizing a walk-in at their schools.

The delegates who volunteered to do so were given packets explaining how to organize the event.

Among other things, the packet included flyers explaining the walk-in that could be handed out to parents and community members.

Delegates were also given information on holding community meetings prior to the walk-ins. Parents, students,and community members living near their schools were invited to these meetings and given an update on the contract negotiations.

At the meetings, union members and those attending the meeting made plans for the walk-in at their schools.

Prior to the walk-ins, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool sent letters to parents describing the walk-ins as a security risk in an apparent attempt to keep parents from supporting the action. He also said that so-called “strangers” would be stopped from entering the schools.

But the scare tactics didn’t work.

Even though, school security staff prevented some parents and community members from walking into their schools, the participation by thousands was a clear show of support for the teachers and their demands for improved public education.

“This is our best one,” said Gabriel Sheridan, a teacher at Ray Elementary to the Chicago Tribune. “We’ve done it before and I think people are coming because they really do see the need to support the whole movement. It’s not just in Chicago, it’s all over, but we wanted to make sure our tax dollars are appropriately being managed to sustain the schools. It’s an important thing.”

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