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September 11, 2012 Print

Chicago Teachers Strike

by Bethany Monk

Hundreds of thousands of children in the Chicago area had no school to attend today as a teachers union strike in the city continued — causing some to wonder where the focus really is.

Despite contract negotiations that lasted all day Sunday, Chicago Public Schools officials and the city’s teachers union were unable to reach agreements over salary raises and other issues.

Though Chicago teachers, who average individual salaries of more than $70,000 each year, were offered a 16 percent raise over the next four years, they held out for 30 percent. Negotiations broke down, and teachers set up picket lines Monday morning.

The city’s charter schools, however, have remained open.

CitizenLink Education Analyst Candi Cushman said the strike underscores the need for students and parents to have more educational options.

“The approximately 50,000 students in charter schools are not being affected by this strike,” she pointed out. “And I think this sheds light on how education-choice reforms — like charter schools and opportunity scholarships — really do act in the best interest of children. We see in this case how school choice frees the education system from being totally and completely at the whim of an adult-focused union.”

Jenai Jenkins, a music teacher at A.N. Pritzker School in Chicago, told CitizenLink that after 16 years in the district, she understands both sides.

“I realize the struggle that both the Chicago Teachers Union and the board of education have in trying to keep things fair,” she said.  In her estimation, the pay raise was not the main reason for the strike.

Lindsey Burke, an education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., said if the union got its way, the average teacher salary in Chicago would rise to more than $90,000 a year.

“That’s pretty incredible,” Burke said, calling the Chicago strike a situation in which adults are focusing on their own issues instead of “what’s best for the children.”

Other issues included in Sunday’s talks focused on tenure debates, new teacher-evaluation methods that tie ratings to students’ test scores and improved working conditions.

Learn more about the different forms of school choice.