Chicago is Everytown, USA


The Chicago Teachers Union took to the picket lines on the morning of April 1 for a one day strike, highlighting the dire financial conditions of their schools because of the state budget impasse caused by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and contract disputes caused by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Teachers and supporters marched in front of public schools before shifting their protests to state universities facing financial catastrophe because of the budget crisis in Springfield.  In typical fashion, no politician took responsibility for the continued stress facing public schools and universities.  Mayor Emanuel protested that he is doing all that he can with what the state government is willing to give, and Governor Rauner issued a boiler plate statement claiming the teachers were victimizing students and their families with a display of “arrogance.”  These statements are rich coming from the mayor who has made closing public schools the centerpiece of education agenda and from the governor who has kept the entire state without a budget for nine months because lawmakers won’t fully endorse his plan to break unions — resulting in a crisis in higher education funding that makes many Illinois families reconsider attending state universities — and whose idea of getting desperately needed funding to urban schools involves “re-purposing” $300 million of special education money for general education funding.

CTU’s action is welcome both for its clarity and for its signal that organized teachers are not going to go along with a governor who holds all of a state hostage to get his anti-labor priorities passed — or with a mayor whose school improvement ideas begin and end with privatization.  The only real question is not why Chicago’s teachers took to the picket lines but rather why a hell of a lot more teachers have not done so across the nation?

President of the Americans Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten said, ““This governor is bankrupting public schools so they won’t effectively function for kids….If you can’t solve things through the normal processes, if you have exhausted every advocacy avenue in a democracy, you then step it up — and that’s what they’re doing.”  Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis tied the strike to larger labor issues across Illinois, “For every single working person in this entire state, somebody’s got to lead the way. It happened to fall to CTU.” She could have easily been talking about several dozen states and the assault on public education that has unfolded across the country.

Let’s review only part of the national roll call:

Attacks on public K-12 and university education are not limited to these examples. Total per pupil funding for elementary and secondary schools remains, adjusted for inflation, below 2008 levels in all but 13 states because of both state aid cuts and loss of local revenue from property taxes.  In 27 states, local funding for K-12 schools rose but could not make up for continued cuts in state aid.  25 states continue to provide less money per pupil today than they did before the Great Recession, and 12 states cut general education funding just in this past year.  Higher education has done no better with all but three states funding their public universities below 2008 levels, both on a percentage of previous funding and on a per pupil basis.  Although 37 states spent more per pupil in the 2014-2015 school year than before, the national average increase was only $268 per student.  Perversely, state schools have had to increase tuition while cutting programs and staff, and now, for the first time, tuition makes up a larger percentage of public university revenue than state grants.  Attacks on teachers’ workplace protections have gone nationwide, hitting courtrooms with dark money funded campaigns where they cannot gain traction among lawmakers, and it appears that only the untimely death of Associate Justice Scalia prevented the Supreme Court from gutting decades of precedent on public union funding.

Once again, the question must be asked:  Why aren’t many, many more teachers across the country joining their sisters and brothers in Chicago in demonstrating that their voices are still there and can speak loudly when they speak together?  It isn’t just the future of their work that is still clearly at stake – it is the future of every child they teach. President Weingarten said, “….if you have exhausted every advocacy avenue in a democracy, you then step it up — and that’s what they’re doing.”

Chicago is Everytown, USA.


Filed under #FightForDyett, Activism, Cami Anderson, charter schools, Chris Christie, Corruption, Dannel Malloy, Funding, One Newark, politics, Social Justice, Unions

8 responses to “Chicago is Everytown, USA

  1. Lisa Miller

    I only wish you had listed Indiana and Arizona issues as well. Every state is suffering from this horrible privatization movement.

  2. Lisa White

    Thank you. I have posted this to my Chicago Ward blog and it will make its way to all the Ward blogs. Enough is enough!

  3. Respecting teachers truly is an issue of great concern. The lack of it is indicated by the unwillingness of students to turn towards education as a career. Lack of payment in paychecks is another evidenced indicator. It’s more than politicians turning a cold shoulder; it’s a society than values sports and entertainment more than education. When we, as a culture, realize that education is foundational to a country’s success, perhaps picket lines will become obsolete.

  4. JBT

    Throughout this article it was asked why there aren’t more teachers taking a stand. Are people not aware that in many states it is illegal to picket and strike? Arizona is an example of this as are many others states. Teachers share in the outrage but we are bound by state law. The community is needed to stand up for us. The true question should be, “Where is our society and why are they not taking a stand for our nation’s children and educators.”

    • That’s an important reminder — I agree that in many states there are huge risks associated with collective action, but even in states with protections, there is great dissatisfaction but a lot less willingness by labor leaders to help rank and file see action as possible.

      It is also important to remember that for much labor history, people risked greatly to fight against laws and power structures that worked against their rights to organize. Even today, people take big risks to try to organize.

      I absolutely agree that we need society as much if not more than organized teachers on this, however. It seems that both teachers and their communities may be very familiar with what is negatively impacting them – but are less aware of how widespread this is within states and across the country. One untimely death on the SCOTUS actually saved public unions from being gutted — that’s terrifying.

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