Hundreds of Chicago Teachers To Skip Work To Lobby for Giant Raises, Radical Teaching Freedoms, as Schools Flounder

The city’s teachers’ union has ‘positioned itself as the new political machine in Chicago,’ one observer tells the Sun, as the group implements a playbook that ‘will be used to inspire other government and teachers unions around the country.’

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Chicago's mayor, Brandon Johnson, greets students, parents, and staff during the first day of classes at Beidler Elementary School, August 21, 2023. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Hundreds of Chicago public school teachers will skip work on Wednesday and head to the Illinois state capital to lobby for billions of dollars that could be used to fund a lengthy list of “politically charged” union demands, as students in the district face troubling absenteeism rates, violent crime, and poor test scores. 

The district says the money would go toward pensions and represents the district’s “fair share” of state funding, but it could also be used “to shore up funds” for union demands that include enormous pay hikes, teacher autonomy over sensitive subjects, and millions of dollars in home-buying and rental assistance for teachers, the senior director of labor policy at Illinois Policy Institute, Mailee Smith, tells the Sun.

Chicago Public Schools is “committed to standing alongside Chicago Teachers Union,” a representative of the district tells the Sun, “to advocate for our fair share of funding from the State of Illinois.” Top district leaders, including the Board of Education’s president and the district’s chief executive, will travel to Springfield on May 15, the representative confirms, and the district is allowing one union member from each of the city’s more than 600 schools to skip work that day to lobby for more money. 

“Chicago is embattled in two different conversations about money right now,” Ms. Smith tells the Sun. The institute — which first obtained the teachers’ union’s internal memo urging members to attend the lobbying day next week — has also exposed a list of radical union demands the union is pushing for as it negotiates a new contract; the existing one expires in June. 

While the negotiation process isn’t public, a leaked document exposed the union’s proposals, which include “teacher autonomy over curriculum” so that teachers are not “forced” to adopt district-mandated curricula on subjects including “Black history, genocide, and Holocaust study, Disability Rights Movement, LGBTQ contributions, culturally responsive teaching and learning standards, Reparations Won,” the document notes. 

The union is demanding wage increases that would bring the average teacher’s salary to $144,620 in the 2027-28 school year, adding more than $51,000 in wages to the current average teacher salary of $93,182. Other troubling demands include $30 million or more in taxpayer funding for teacher home purchases and rentals, using schools as a “temporary sheltering” place for homeless Chicago Public School families, and taxpayer-funded transit and parking passes, Ms. Smith notes. 

The union is also demanding 100 percent health care coverage for weight-loss drugs such as Ozempic, as well as for abortions. 

“All offered health plans must include 100 percent coverage benefits for fertility including full coverage for storage of embryos; and 100 percent coverage benefits in connection with the cost of ‘abortion care’ including up to $1,000 for out-of-state travel in the event Illinois law is amended to restrict abortion access,” Ms. Smith says. 

“These demands fall far outside the scope of traditional bargaining, and have become some of the most political, far-reaching requests from a teachers union in the nation,” Ms. Smith notes, adding that in 2022 Illinois amended its constitution to allow government union contracts to supersede state law. The union “has positioned itself as the new political machine in Chicago and its playbook includes changing state law and electing a union figure into political office to get what it wants. This playbook will be used to inspire other government and teachers unions around the country.” 

The union’s demands also come as 40 percent of Chicago public school students are chronically absent, violent crimes at Chicago schools have spiked by nearly 30 percent, and test scores show that students are falling behind in reading and math proficiency. 

The Nation’s Report Card indicates that only one in five Chicago students performed at or above proficiency levels in mathematics in 2022, and only 22 percent were proficient in reading. For eighth grade, 21 percent of students were considered proficient in reading, and only 16 percent were proficient in math. 

Despite these student outcomes, Chicago Public Schools maintains that sending hundreds of teachers to the state’s capital to lobby for more funding will present “a united front.”

“While we are grateful for increased funding in this year’s budget at the state level, we continue to be uniquely disadvantaged by several funding inequities when it comes to pensions, capital projects, and the State’s own Evidence-Based Formula,” a representative notes to the Sun. The Chicago’s Teachers Union was not immediately responsive to requests from the Sun for comment.

The New York Sun

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