On Good Friday this week, my fellow teachers and I will take the first of three furlough days as a part of a band-aid solution to the funding crisis that has put the Chicago Public Schools in a chokehold.
This cost-saving measure by Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool and the Board of Education will affect my students as well, depriving them access to their schools and teachers. Although they will lose only one day of education (the other two furlough days are non-student-attendance days), the impact of Friday’s furlough will be much bigger and say much more about our city and state’s poor practices in funding public education.
The furlough days have escalated an already tense conflict with the Chicago Teachers Union. Although Claypool and the school board recently rescinded a decision for CPS to stop paying the bulk of teacher pension contributions — the “pension pickup” — the furloughs come during the current fact-finding phase in contract negotiations with CTU. Claypool’s decision to impose furlough days, which amounts to a 1.7 percent pay cut for teachers, has undermined the negotiating process and further decreased the trust of CPS teachers in both the contract process and CPS itself.
Claypool has stated in a letter to CPS employees that the furlough days will save the district $30 million. As a teacher, I find it difficult to understand how a city like Chicago cannot creatively think of a way to generate $30 million rather than resort to damaging cuts — or, for that matter, borrow at sky-high interest rates.
According to the Education Trust, Illinois again in 2015 suffered the largest educational funding gap between the rich and the poor in the nation, largely because of our state’s reliance on property taxes to fund public education. Instead of looking toward states like Minnesota, which according to a recent article in the Atlantic raised income taxes on the wealthy to create a $2 billion budget surplus that the state is using to partially fund education, we in Illinois continue to fund our schools the way we always have — inequitably. Compared to Minnesota, Illinois residents pay much less in income taxes, but we bear the burden of a nearly $10 billion deficit and a state budget stalemate.
And this is the part that pains me as a Chicago and Illinois resident, teacher and parent. The solution cannot be to continue the status quo. We must answer the call for sustainable revenue on our own, rather than wait for more equitable funding from the state.
Chicago and CPS must devise innovative revenue sources to secure school funding at the local level. A property tax increase is one answer. Asking people to show support for our children’s education when they make use of city services and amusements is another. Could we tack on an extra charge for traveling through O’Hare, Midway, bus depots and train stations? Could we add an extra charge for tickets to professional sporting events and concerts? Could we earmark TIF funds for our schools prior to a funding crisis? And when we do this, could we also make it clear that the extra charge benefits Chicago’s public school students — and that this is how our city shows it supports quality education?
In this time of national economic prosperity, it is a shame that budget cuts, layoffs and furloughs are the only answers our city and state leaders have come up with when it comes to public education. We need city and state leaders who are willing to challenge the status quo so as to provide our students with the education they deserve.
Other cities and states put a priority on education. Chicago and Illinois should, too.
Gina Caneva is a 12-year CPS veteran who works as a teacher-librarian and Writing Center Director at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. She is a National Board Certified teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum.
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