The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has ended its seven-day strike, agreeing to a contract negotiated by the union and the school district. At the expense of 350,000 children and taxpayers throughout the state, the union has won big.
The union secured a 3 percent salary increase in the first year, a 2 percent raise in the second year, a 2 percent raise in the third year, and a 3 percent raise if the current contract is extended to a fourth year. Prior to the negotiated raise, Chicago public school (CPS) teachers were already among the highest paid in the country, taking home an average of $76,000 per year. When plush pension benefits are included—a $77,400 payment per year, for life, for a 30 year retiree in the system—total compensation is extravagant.
Those lavish benefits and salaries are, of course, financed by Illinois taxpayers across the state, whose average family income is $47,000 per year.
Notably, the contract protects step increases in pay, which reward teachers based on credentials acquired and length of time served, not on classroom effectiveness. The union also thwarted a merit pay proposal Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) was seeking, which would have rewarded the best teachers for improving the academic outcomes of students. As The Wall Street Journal notes:
Mr. Emanuel had wanted to replace the “step and lane” raises that teachers get for years of service and extra credentials with merit pay. But the union blocked that. District officials say the total pay increases in the deal would average 4.4% annually over four years, and cost an additional $295 million for a district that faces an estimated $1 billion deficit in 2015-16.
Finally, teachers who are laid off due to school closures enter a “hiring pool”—a provision secured by the union—which means they are the first to access openings at other Chicago public schools.
So, did the district get anything out of this “deal?” The district retains its longer school day, implemented this year. As of the end of the last school year, Chicago had the shortest school day in the country at just 5.5 hours. Mayor Emanuel extended the school day to 7.5 hours, although teachers still get a 45 minute duty-free lunch and an hour planning period.
The district did get a modest improvement over the status quo on teacher evaluations, but the new policy equates to a slap on the wrist for the worst-performing teachers. In the first and second years of the contract, 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on student performance on state tests, a figure which increases to 30 percent in the third year and 35 percent in a possible fourth year of the contract.
As the WSJ notes, teachers rated unsatisfactory would have three months to improve or risk being fired. But teachers deemed “developing”—an estimated 28 percent of teachers in CPS—would be ranked unsatisfactory after two years, unless they can improve one point on the 400-point teacher evaluation scale. Unsatisfactory teachers will also be first in line in the event of district layoffs.
The extended school day was ostensibly the catalyst for the strike. But it’s clear from the contract that the union wanted much more. Or, as union head Karen Lewis stated, education employees continued striking because they “wanted to know if there is anything more they can get.”
One of the saddest aspects of the strike debacle is that nothing good will come of it for children. We know all the things the union demanded—step increases in pay, across-the-board pay raises, pay for credentials, and extra education employees in the schools—have no impact on student achievement. Yet children had to put the school year on hold, while overburdened taxpayers are further pinched.
But while the union may have won this battle, they may have lost the war. Report after report has surfaced of parents seeking out charter schools in the wake of the strike. The difference between Chicago’s charters—functioning and staffed with non-unionized teachers during the standoff—has left an indelible mark on parents in the city. That’s likely why Chicago charter schools are receiving “a record number of calls.”
It’s a sign for Illinois policymakers, who should now work to ensure union power is curtailed, never to jeopardize a child’s education again. Policymakers should work to enact sweeping, universal school choice. They can do that by funding children—not institutions—through vouchers, tax credits, or education savings accounts.
School choice means Illinois children would no longer be tethered to the nearest unionized, government school. It would mean never again sentencing a child to a week in the streets and away from the classroom, because self-serving adults avoid accountability and demand almost unparalleled compensation levels. Most importantly, it would mean children have access to educational options that meet their unique learning needs.
The time is now to enact widespread school choice in Illinois, and the CTU has given 350,000 reasons for policymakers to do just that.