Late breaking news out of Chicago last night was that Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) negotiations broke down yet again and the teachers will be going on strike today. The last contract ended on June 30, 2012 and negotiations have been going on for months but neither side would give in to the other’s final concessions. Why would almost 30,000 teachers strike, leaving around 400,000 kids ‘on the street’? Before delving into the reasons, you should know some background about Chicago:
- Chicago Public Schools are facing a $700 million budget shortfall
- Chicago is facing a $15 billion budget shortfall overall
- Chicago raised personal income taxes on residents by a whopping 66%
- Chicago raised property taxes on residents to the tune of $221 million specifically for education
- 71 cents for every dollar of education spending is now set aside for teacher pensions
With those factors in mind, it’s a wonder there is any money left to pay for increases in educational expenses. But it doesn’t stop there. What exactly are the main reasons for the CTU strike?
Extended school day and year:
Chicago Public Schools have the shortest school day in the country (6.25 hours according to the latest CTU contract). Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s former Chief of Staff) wants to increase the day by 90 minutes. As a concession, CPS said they’d only increase it by 10%. Studies have shown that a longer school day actually helps students to learn more. The teachers are willing to work the longer school day but want a 30% increase in pay for doing so – 24% in the first year, 5% the next year.
Increase in pay:
Chicago teachers are, on average, the highest paid teachers in the country. According to the CTU, the average pay for a Chicago teacher is $71,000 (for working 170 days per year – they get 10 paid vacation days). Given that they have the shortest school day and the highest pay already, demanding a 30% increase in pay over the next 2 years is egregious. Especially since Chicago Public Schools fall in the bottom of the country when it comes to test scores.
Chicago Public Schools have some of the worst student outcomes in Illinois and the country. The demands made by the teachers’ unions all these years that more spending and smaller classrooms (CTU contract also limits class size) will increase the test scores and learning of students is apparently bogus.
The CPS wants to install new methods of evaluating teachers so that they can retain only the best teachers. It is built into the CTU contract that the union has a say in the evaluations. How many employees tell their employer how they want to be evaluated? Given the failing record of the Chicago Teachers Union, maybe it should be the parents who evaluate the teachers. The union should have zero say in evaluations. The Chicago Public School Board should create the standards that weed out the worst teachers so that students actually have a fighting chance at a good education.
One of the complaints of the CTU is teachers being forced to teach in 98 degree classrooms on some days. While it definitely would be better to have air conditioning for all involved, the majority of schools in this country do not (at least not on the East Coast). They have never had A/C in Chicago Public Schools so this is all of the sudden a reason to strike? Given that the teachers themselves are sucking up most of the funds going towards education, it’s hard to rally around them asking for millions more to pay for air conditioning.
Supplies and copying:
Apparently books are not in on time for the first day of school. Why? What are the reasons for this delay? Arguably this is an issue that needs to be resolved. This again is no reason to strike. Copying also seems to be an issue. Given that teachers do make many copies throughout the years, this is another resolvable issue that is no cause for a strike. If funding is the issue, maybe teachers can spend a little more on their health insurance and use the savings to pay for the desperately needed copies.
It should also be noted that Chicago teachers pay only 3% of their health insurance premiums. That seems to be another point of contention. The CPS is possibly trying to raise that amount by 7% so the teachers would be paying 10% for their health insurance premiums (note: the majority of taxpayers footing the bill for these teachers are paying 25% or more for their own health insurance).