The numbers are jaw-dropping. In 30 Chicago public schools, not a single student can read at grade level. In total, just 20% of third- through eighth-graders in the Windy City are proficient in reading and only 15% are proficient in math.
As such, it’s easy to see why students are bailing en masse. In fact, more than one-third of Chicago’s 473 traditional public schools are currently running at half-full or worse, according to data released in December. Douglass High School, which bills itself as “The Jewel Of The Westside,” has a capacity for 888 students, but just 34 are enrolled, and not one of them is proficient in reading. In the past ten years, the city’s total public school enrollment has gone from over 400,000 to 322,000 and the bleeding shows no sign of abating.
The spending hawks can’t claim it’s due to a lack of funding. When all local, state and federal dollars are added up, Chicago’s per student outlay is now $29,207.
Additionally, the underpaid teacher excuse can’t get any traction in Chi-town as a starting teacher makes $64,000 a year and can earn up to $122,000 per annum – not including pension and healthcare perks.
Chicago schools took a hit in 2018 when the Chicago Tribune released “Betrayed,” a series of articles that drew attention to numerous shocking incidents of sexual misconduct against students throughout the city. The Trib reported that “between 2008 and 2017, the Chicago Police Department had conducted 523 investigations that involved sexual assault or abuse of children within Chicago schools by fellow students or adults.”
Corruption has also been rampant throughout the district. As reported by Wirepoints, former Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Barbra Byrd-Bennett spent time in federal prison for steering contracts to a former employer in 2015. And Forest Claypool, another former CPS CEO, had to resign under a cloud of ethics violations in 2017.
And then there’s the Chicago Teachers Union, the most noxious teachers union in the country, especially so since 2010 when the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators (CORE) began to rule the roost. In the past 13 years, the union has held five strikes or “work stoppages.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, hardly a right-winger, stated during a recent debate with two of her opponents in the Chicago mayoral race that the Chicago Teachers Union brought chaos to the schools. Lightfoot blamed CTU for the district’s enrollment decline and criticized the union’s frequent work stoppages that plagued the city.
In January 2022, the union illegally staged a last-minute walkout over the district’s Covid-19 protocols, which gave parents just a few hours to scramble for a back-up plan for their children. The response to the protest was fast and furious. Mincing no words, Mayor Lightfoot called the walkout illegal and said, “If you care about our students, if you care about our families, as we do, we will not relent. Enough is enough. We are standing firm and we are going to fight to get our kids back to in-person learning. Period. Full stop.”
For good measure, she added, “I will not allow them to take our children hostage…. Why are we here again when we know that the safest place for our children is in school? Why are we here again when we know that our schools are safe?”
While most teachers unions are political in nature and kids are merely a blip on their radar, CTU is in a league of its own. As reported by Mailee Smith, staff attorney and director of labor policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, since CORE took over the union in 2010, the union has invested heavily in political campaigns, giving more than $17 million to state and local election committees. “In 2021, only 19 percent of CTU spending—$5.9 million of $31 million—was used to represent teachers, according to reports that the CTU filed with the Department of Labor. The rest went to politics, administration, and other union leadership priorities. Last year, the CTU spent more than $1 million on political activities and lobbying, which doesn’t include money spent by its political action committee.”
Since 2010, CTU has directed nearly $17.2 million to political committees, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections, including over $2.5 million to Illinois Senate and House candidates, more than $1.3 million to current Chicago mayoral candidates, and over $505,000 to current Chicago aldermanic candidates.
CTU also wants to eliminate Illinois’ only private school choice program. The Invest in Kids Act is a tax credit program which provides a choice for families that are seeking a better fit for their kids, but can’t afford private school. If CTU gets its way, over 9,000 low-income students across the state will lose their scholarships to attend their private school, and be forced back into the school system they so desperately tried to escape.
Adding to the overall miasma, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker just signed into law House Bill 5107, which enables school principals to unionize. This gambit will serve to exacerbate an already hostile labor environment and further destabilize the school district.
On February 28, Chicagoans will elect a new mayor. The union’s choice is Brandon Johnson, a CTU lobbyist, avowed Socialist, and recipient of a $590,000 gift from the union. On Jan. 23, Johnson introduced his “tax-the-rich” revenue plan for the city of Chicago, calling for $800 million in new taxes. He is specifically targeting the “wealthy,” but the details of his plan show that much of the pain will be absorbed by the middle class.
A 2004 Fordham Institute study looked at 50 American cities and found that 21.5% of urban school teachers send their kids to private schools, while 17.5% of non-teachers do. Digging a little deeper, we learn that the disparity is considerably greater for larger urban areas. In Chicago, for example, 39% of public school teachers’ kids attend a private school.
Given the state of CPS, I would be shocked if that 39% isn’t considerably higher now.
(Having just scratched the surface here, advise viewing Local 1: The Rise of America’s Most Powerful Teachers Union, Illinois Policy Institute’s just released documentary about the history of the Chicago Teachers Union and its political influence. It is well worth your time.)
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.