This past Tuesday would have been the second time the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011 – if there were a strike.

For weeks there has been conversation and preparation for a strike in Chicago Public Schools, the largest school district in the state and third largest in the nation, however Mayor Emanuel managed to avoid the fallout at the last second and both sides reached an agreement. CPS teachers will get pay raises, pensions, and job security. Legally teachers are only allowed to strike over pay and benefits, so how do we meet the needs of students?

Out of the agreements made in the new contract that will last until June 2019, here are the ones that impact CPS students most directly:

  • Teachers teaching kindergarten through second grade classes with 32 or more students will receive an an in-classroom assistant, effective in the second semester of the (current) 2016-2017 school year
  • Possibility of subcontracting certified nurses, that will be approved through joint decisions of the CTU and the Board of Education
  • By the 2017-2018 school year school counselors, special educators, and related service providers will not be required to handle case management duties. The Board and CTU will be looking into ways to implement this
  • Limits will be specified for the workload of special educators
  • The Board will continue it’s commitment to restorative justice practices and receive recommendations from the Student Discipline, Truancy, and School Safety Committee

Most of these things will not be immediate, even though in a school district often described as “failing” the need urgency is certainly there. The district that teaches nearly 380,000 students, about 40% of which are African American and 45% Hispanic, could use some overhaul for the sake of student’s learning environments and not necessarily for teacher’s pockets. However, in 2011, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn with the support of Mayor Emanuel passed Senate Bill 7 making it harder for teachers to strike and preventing them from striking for anything other than teacher benefits.

Many teachers recognize though, that students in the district are facing bigger problems that won’t be solved within a teacher’s salary. Oriole Park Elementary teacher Erika Wozniak shared this in an open letter to DNAinfo:

“We watch as programs are slashed and budgets are reduced and we see first hand how this affects our students and how it affects our ability to do our jobs, to teach. We have watched as schools are closed, class sizes increase, special education budgets are slashed, and wrap around services (such as social workers, counselors, psychologists, and nurses) are stripped to the bare bone for our students. We have worked in schools that have become increasingly filthy and not allowed our students to drink from the drinking fountains because of the lead in the water. While experiencing all of this, we have also watched as money in Chicago is being spent everywhere but on our students….”

Within Mayor Emanuel’s term, he has closed 50 Chicago schools due to low performance and enrollment. This past summer it was reported that two-thirds of CPS schools faced budget cuts and declining enrollment. In this same city Mayor Emanuel is increasing funding for policing. Teachers and families have expressed valid concerns about the physical and environmental conditions of schools in the district. Yet here we are, talking about pay raises.

So, the question remains, how will The City of Chicago truly stand up and make change for it’s youth?


Photo: Wiki Commons