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The Chicago Teachers Union Demands? Nuts?

The Wilmette School district spends $20,865 per student. Chicago Public Schools spends $30,000.

I know this sounds stupid but: How about privatizing the Chicago Public School system and instead give every student a $20,000 voucher to select the school of their choice. Would save money and provide 100% better education.

Don't worry that will never happen.

Paul Vallas: CTU’s contract demands are divorced from reality. Here’s what Chicago must demand.


June 13, 2024 at 5:00 a.m.

Ever since the Chicago Teachers Union contract demands were leaked, there’s been much talk about how divorced the proposal is from reality. That’s the point.

These outlandish demands — from the 9% annual base salary increases to demands for money for migrant students, climate initiatives, abortion and gender-affirming care, blocks on parental notification and more — are part of a political stunt.

The CTU wants to serve up these egregious asks to temper expectations about what it really wants in its members’ contract: more pay, more staff, less accountability and less competition. And we shouldn’t let ourselves be played.

Realistically, the CTU will likely settle for a pay raise closer to what was awarded to the Chicago Police Department and the Service Employees International Union — with additional staff hires and changes to standards. Mayor Brandon Johnson and CTU President Stacy Davis Gates will proclaim a historic compromise.

But no matter which way it’s sold, the deal will stick taxpayers with another unaffordable contract that further degrades school quality.

The current CTU contract costs $1.5 billion and makes CPS teachers among the highest paid in the nation’s big districts — while not adding a minute to the school day or year. It reduced teacher and school accountability while capping the number of charter schools and enrollment. It didn’t prevent the union from engaging in work stoppages.

Expect more of the same.

Despite enrollment losses, district funding grew over the contract — CPS is now spending almost $30,000 per student. Yet the CTU is demanding thousands more.

The contract will likely reduce teacher workload with extra days off. Currently, teachers can take at least 43 days off during the year in the form of vacation, holidays, winter and spring breaks, personal days and sick days, according to Illinois Policy Institute analysis of the contract demands. The union is demanding nine new or expanded leave categories. This will ensure schools continue to lack the most important component to academic success — increased instructional time on task.

The union, emboldened by success in keeping schools closed during COVID-19, may also get a new excuse for closing schools while members get paid: cases of a “traumatic event.” The contract demands state that after any “traumatic event” at a school, the superintendent would be required to meet with the head of the CTU to discuss closing the school for some time.

Based on prior contracts, the district may collude with the CTU to eliminate public school competition. This includes continuing to cap the number of charter schools and their enrollment and taking away the autonomy they need to innovate. Meanwhile, they will expand their failed “sustainable community schools” model to 200 schools, funded based on need, financially punishing high-performing magnet schools.

The fate of the school district and the city are at stake. Before declaring a gracious “compromise,” the city must make demands of its own. These should include:

  • Dramatically downsizing the central office, consolidating regional offices and tying teacher compensation to available revenue.

  • Restoring high standards and student, teacher and school accountability.

  • Recover students who left during the COVID-19 school shutdowns by opening state-authorized and -funded charter alternative schools that target students who have dropped out.

  • Empower Local School Councils and school principals to shape their community schools, including by making their own staffing decisions and selecting their own school models.Consolidate underenrolled schools and authorize the leasing or sharing of those near empty buildings with charter schools, including alternative schools.

  • Protect magnet schools and expand the number of magnet school programs in neighborhood schools.Remove caps on public charter schools and rescind encroaching state and district mandates that are interfering with their ability to innovate.

  • Enact the city’s own private school scholarship program using a portion of the district’s annual tax-increment financing district windfall and by registering state-certified private schools as contract schools making them eligible for state aid.

The CTU will oppose any action that affects its members, diminishes its ranks or outsources its work, even to other unions that have the occupational expertise. The district, under the leadership of the mayor’s appointed school board, doesn’t recognize that the CTU is an obstacle to saving our schools.

Chicago Tribune Opinion: Read the latest editorials and commentary curated by the Tribune Opinion team.

The wild card to keeping this in check is Gov. J.B. Pritzker. He dramatically strengthened the CTU by taking no action to extend the Invest in Kids scholarship program, allowing elimination of the independent Illinois State Charter Commission and signing legislation restoring the CTU’s power to strike for any reason. Pritzker is partially responsible for the current situation.

Will the governor support efforts to prevent the CTU from further degrading of Chicago’s school system?

Paul Vallas is an adviser for the Illinois Policy Institute. He has run for Chicago mayor twice and was previously budget director for the city and CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

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