To solve Chicago’s educational challenges, two things are required: trust and a willingness to share responsibility for getting our system’s fiscal house in order once and for all.
The Chicago Teacher’s Union recently rejected a contract offer that provided higher salaries, no layoffs, limits on charter school growth and needed funding for pensions, arguing they can’t trust the Chicago Public Schools.
The proposal, on the heels of extensive Central Office layoffs, asked teachers to share in the responsibility by paying more of their own pension and health care costs. CTU President Karen Lewis was supportive enough of the agreement to present it to a bargaining committee, but the committee flatly rejected it.
I understand the frustration of teachers. They work hard and give their hearts and souls to their students and in return they expect a fair salary and a dignified retirement. I truly believe that our proposal met those goals.
I appreciate that teachers don’t put much stock in words, but at least consider our actions in the first six months of my term as CPS chief: we have cut bureaucracy out of Central Office, closed more charters than we have opened, reopened a neighborhood high school in Washington Park, and given the union a concrete offer that boosts pay while protecting students, teachers and pensions.
We recognize that trust is a two-way street and must continue to be earned by both sides. This will require both sides to cool the rhetoric and remain focused on the ultimate goal of reaching an agreement to support our children’s education. The children and parents of CPS need us working together now more than ever.
My hope was that, with a contract agreement in place, CPS and CTU could join forces on behalf of our children and work toward getting the funding they deserve from Springfield.
The fact is, Chicago has 20 percent of Illinois public school students but receives less than 15 percent of the state’s education funding. More precisely, Springfield provides 27 percent less funding for Chicago’s kids than it does to the rest of the state on average.
With 86 percent of CPS children designated as low-income by the Illinois State Board of Education, that’s a moral outrage.
Simple equality in funding would provide $500 million a year in new revenue. That’s not enough to eliminate the $1.1 billion budget deficit threatening our classrooms, but it could be the foundational piece of a partnership between the state, city, CPS and CTU to right our fiscal ship.
The only alternative is to continue to borrow at punishing interest rates and implement a new round of mid-year cuts that unfortunately will hit our classrooms in the coming weeks.
The irony of this fight is that our students are doing better today than ever before, even as our finances are increasingly imperiled.
Today, our kids are leading the state in academic growth. This year, they led the nation in math and reading gains among fourth and eighth graders. Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected in 2011, CPS test scores, graduation rates and college attendance have reached record levels.
CPS has a long way to go, but the arrow is up. Way up.
There is so much at stake right now and we cannot afford to let our differences divide us. Let’s get back to the table and get this deal done so we can lock arms and demand that Springfield meet its responsibilities. All the academic progress of recent years will be in vain if we cannot end the chronic financial instability that has plagued the system for years.
And then we can get on with the real work of educating our students, empowering our teachers and delivering on the promise of a quality education.
It starts with trust, but also shared responsibility.
Forrest Claypool is chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools.
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