Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicago Teachers' Strike _ update

Where we are in Chicago today: 

This morning (Monday, September 10, 2012) the Chicago teachers went on strike – for the first time since 1987.  The road to the strike has been a long one that includes (i) efforts by the hedge fund elite behind Stand for (on) Children (SFC) to make such an occurrence impossible; (ii) the desire of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to impose on Chicago public schools a model of corporate privatization; and (iii) important changes in the functioning of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). 

Stand on Children

The efforts of SFC are by now well known.  A brief review: after spending almost $4 million on Illinois legislative races, SFC got as payoff SB7.  The bill made it impossible for the CTU to pass a strike vote – or so SFC CEO Jonah Edelman bragged in June 2011to the Aspen Ideas Festival that “The unions cannot strike in Chicago.”  Edelman and his allies figured that the requirement for 75% approval for a strike with the further provision that abstentions counted as no votes could not be met. 

Turns out they were wrong.

In early July, CTU membership voted by over 90% (and excluding abstentions, by 98%) to authorize their house of delegates to call a strike if contract negotiations fail.

“Reforming” Chicago Public Schools

When Emanuel ran for mayor of Chicago, one of his announced political goals was to “reform” Chicago public schools.  The system is the third largest in the country and has a high percentage of children from low income families (80% of Chicago’s public school attendees qualify for free lunches).  To understand what “reform” means to Emanuel, we should take the advice of Deep Throat regarding Nixon’s Watergate, “Follow the money.”  It is a good guide to what Chicago is and is not doing for its school children.

TIF monies nicely illuminate the real priorities of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education.  Earlier this year, Roosevelt University Professor Stephanie Farmer’s analysis demonstrated that TIF spending for education over the past two decades has been biased against open enrollment schools (what we use to call “public schools”).  These schools constitute 69% of total Chicago schools, but they have received less than 48% of TIF money for building maintenance, repair, and upgrading.  In revealing contrast, nine selective-enrollment high schools (charter and magnet) that make up 1 percent of the total number of schools got 24 percent of the money spent on school construction projects.  Overall, CTU estimates that TIFs remove $250 million/year from the CPS.  This is almost half of the budget shortfall forecast by the Board.  (See:

The charter school mantra reigns supreme in the thinking of both Emanuel and his appointed Board of Education.  In analyzing the Board’s proposed budget, the CTU pointed out that it:
increases charter school spending by 17 percent, but does not address the rampant inequality in education programs across the district. In 2002, charter school spending was about $30 million; now, CPS proposes a whopping half-a-billion dollars to a failed reform program that has been shown to provide its students with no better education outcomes.
The last decade has seen a huge growth in (nonunionized) charter schools despite lack of any evidence of their alleged effectiveness.  Chicago’s 600 plus schools include 110 charters and another 27 schools run by private firms.  Meanwhile what is the situation for the bulk of Chicago school children?  A quarter of the open enrollment elementary schools have no libraries, 40% have neither either art nor music instruction while many others must choose one or the other but can’t get both.   
Mayor Emanuel sends his children to the private Chicago Lab School – where all of these “extras” are available.

Finally, what about the CTU?  The union has undergone significant changes in how it functions and defines its constituency.  In 2010, Karen Lewis of CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) was elected president of the CTU, a victory that was underlined by the success of other CORE candidates for trustees and Vice President. Lewis, a former chemistry teacher, immediately set about both democratizing the internal operations of the union and, importantly, building links between the union and parents.  Thus the current strike is not primarily about wages but, as the excellent study produced by CTU says, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve (  The study outlines a vision of the future for Chicago’s school children that is sharply at odds with that of SFC and the mayor but that resonates with parents and children in the schools.  CTU’s study calls for the expansion of art and music programs, more “wrap around” services to reach at risk children, to recognize that class size matters (Emanuel has talked about going as high as 55 students in a class), equalizing funding across schools.  These are all pieces of a vision that should be embraced by true education reformers – but the study has been largely ignored by those who currently run the CPS.

The CTU has laid the groundwork for a true labor/community fight for the future of Chicago’s children and, at the same time is pointing the way for other public sector unions in this era of austerity for the 99%.  Now is the time for all of us to support them in their time of trial.  You can go here for ways to provide that support:

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