Why You Should Be Paying Attention to Chicago
Merit pay, standardized testing based evaluations, privatization of schools, the destruction of public education at the hands of billionaires. You have been hearing about all of this for quite some time now. We have been scapegoated as villains across the country. It seems a day can’t go by without coming across another story about how this alleged legion of “bad teachers” are failing our country’s children and leading to the downward spiral of our once great nation. If you are anything like me you are more than sick of it and you are breathlessly waiting for “the pendulum to swing the other way” as we have been promised that it eventually will. Well some 900 miles west of Comsewogue things are starting to come to a head.
In what may very well prove to be a seminal moment for teacher unions and the labor movement in general, the Chicago Teachers Union is standing up to the billionaire bullies. They are pushing back. They are fighting our fight. In case you aren’t up to date on the whole story, here is the play by play…
In the spring of 2011 former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel began his term as mayor of Chicago. Some of the primary donors to Emanuel’s campaign, a handful of Chicago area billionaires, were the same people bankrolling the group called Stand for Children. Stand for Children, an Oregon based non-profit group, who as recently as the summer of 2010 didn’t even exist in Illinois, became the best funded political action committee (PAC) in the state within five months. Stand for Children, in spite of what it’s name suggests, exists simply to bust unions and privatize public education. To give you an idea of who is behind Stand for Children, one only has to look at their donor list. Among the ten donors who contributed more than $250,000 to the group in 2010 was notorious charter school advocates, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the well known anti-union Walton Family (owners of Walmart).
While helping to bankroll Emanuel’s campaign, Stand for Children pushed to pass Senate Bill 7 in Illionois. The bill reformed tenure and seniority rights and made it more difficult for teachers in Chicago to strike. It requires unions to have 75% of it’s membership to authorize a strike, which Stand for Children thought to be impossible.
The video embedded below features Stand for Children co-founder and CEO Jonah Edelman addressing his strategy for dealing with the teacher unions. The good stuff really begins at about the 2:15 mark. At the 3:15 mark he discusses how the press “never picked up on” their strategy to use individual candidates to execute a political objective of tilting their money towards the powerful speaker of the house Michael Madigan. At the 4:50 mark he talks about how after the election Madigan was now supportive of their “reform” agenda. At 5:45 he talks about concern from the teachers unions about speaker Madigan “switching allegiance” and their ability to jam these reforms down the throats of the unions just as they had with pension reforms. At 9:05 he talks about Emanuel being elected and supporting their proposal. He then talks about the talking point “that we made up and he repeated a thousand times probably on the campaign trail about Houston kids going to school four more years than Chicago kids.” (That’s right, he admitted that they made facts up to use in a campaign!) And finally he says at 14:30, “So our hope and our expectations are to use this as a catalyst to very quickly make similar changes in other very entrenched states.”
With the changes from SB7 in place, Mayor Emanuel canceled a promised 4% raise, proposed a lengthened day by 20% with only a 2% raise, sought to increase class sizes, and finally proposed a merit pay system that was similar to the system which had 60% of all Baltimore teachers receiving unsatisfactory ratings. Emanuel then was featured in an anti-union movie directed by the Chicago Tea Party’s Steve Marcus for the Michigan based Education Action Group titled “A Tale of Two Missions.” As Marcus himself noted, the matter of the Democrat Emanuel teaming up with the Tea Party to lead the charge against unions is “a case study of making very interesting bedfellows.”
On June 11th, the Chicago Teachers Union held a vote to authorize a strike in which 90% of their membership turned out for. A staggering 98% of those present voted to authorize a strike, well over the 75% now required by law.
In July, after Edelman had bragged “the fact-finding recommendations, which are nonbinding, will favor what we would consider to be common sense.” fact-finding recommended:
- A 12.6 percent raise to account for the finding that teachers will be working a 19.6 percent longer day and year.
- An additional 2.25 percent cost-of-living raise.
- Step and lane increases. (The district wants to scrap these raises based on seniority and education in favor of a merit pay program, which the union opposes.)
After Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said on June 5th, “teachers deserve a raise and will receive one that is fair. How much that raise should be is in the hands of an independent fact-finder.” However, the district rejected the fact-finder Edwin Benn’s recommendation.
Today the union plans to file a 10-day strike notice which would allow them to strike in ten days. While such notice doesn’t guarantee a strike, the union is certainly getting close to the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in decades. Furthermore they are standing up to the same forces that are funding nonsensical and misguided attacks against teachers and public schools across the country. Simply put, the Chicago teachers’ fight is OUR fight as well. It is imperative that we support them in as many ways as possible and closely monitor the outcome of this situation. To contribute to the CTU’s solidarity fund you can click here. While the mainstream media, funded by many of the same people battling with the CTU, aren’t covering the situation, you can follow the story on Twitter using the hashtag #CTU or by reading Kenzo Shibata’s blog at the Huffington Post. The CTU’s YouTube channel can be found here. At the bottom of this post you will find the video “Chicago Teachers Union vs. Astroturf Billionaires” embedded. It is a comprehensive look at the situation and the forces at work against our brothers and sisters in the CTU.
Oh yeah, welcome back to school!
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