After nearly a year of collective bargaining and a seven day
strike, you have reached a tentative agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union.
This agreement may have ended the strike, but otherwise we believe it is
inadequate. In economic terms, it will force Chicago Public Schools either into
drastic cuts or bankruptcy. In academic terms, it’s simply not good enough.
The good news is you can still make Chicago a model for education
reform.But doing so will mean
advocating new alternatives to the Chicago Public School system.
The current system is unaffordable. The district is draining its
reserves and it faces a $1 billion shortfall next year when the pension
“holiday” expires. We estimate that the teachers’ pension system is only 32
percent funded under new accounting standards. This isn’t something that can be
swept under the rug; CPS must resume making its regular contributions for
teacher retirements. With the district’s budget in such poor shape,
across-the-board pay increases ought to have been out of the question, but the
new contract calls for pay hikes approaching 16 percent. CPS cannot afford
these pay increases.
CPS could ask taxpayers in Chicago or statewide to cover the
shortfall, but you cannot assume that struggling families will be willing to
bail out CPS. Unemployment in Illinois remains stubbornly high and taxpayers
are still dealing with the 67 percent hike in income tax rates. Nor is federal
assistance a safe bet. There is no guarantee the current administration will
still be in office come January. Issuing even more debt may be appealing, but
that will be increasingly difficult.Two credit rating agencies downgraded CPS bonds within the past two
There is little reason to hope for a dramatic change in academic
performance in the wake of the new contract. The evaluation process is watered
down. Merit pay has been rejected. There are many superstars among Chicago
teachers, but their success will go unrewarded. There is also no guarantee that
you will be able to identify and remove the weakest teachers and there is
little that you can offer to mediocre teachers to motivate them to improve.
Only 60 percent of CPS high school students graduate. Only six of every 100 high school
freshmen get four-year college degrees. This ought to be unacceptable, but
these results are likely to continue if we keep going down the same path. It’s time to take an entirely different approach. Teacher layoffs
and school closings will be extremely hard to avoid under the new agreement,
but the process of shrinking the system will mean opportunities to promote
alternatives, especially charter schools, online learning, and vouchers.
Chicago’s charter schools only
spend 75 cents for every $1 spent by CPS. They pay an average teacher salary of $49,000,
compared to at least $71,000 in CPS. Even so, charters often outperform CPS
schools. In 2011, nine of the 10 open enrollment,
non-selective Chicago public high schools with the highest average ACT scores
were charters. At least 15,000 students are on charter waiting lists. Let
parents choose better schools for their kids; join the fight to remove the cap
on charter schools.
learning also opens up new avenues, allowing students to access the best
curricula and instructors. In our increasingly interconnected world, there is
no reason why students’ choices should be limited to what is offered in a
of the students who attend CPS live in or near poverty. A quality education is
their first step to a better life. Too many Chicago schools are failing to
provide a sound education. We are morally obligated to provide parents with a
way to opt out of these failing schools. And we have a pretty good idea where
those schools are; many of Chicago’s worst performing public schools have been
at the bottom of the list for the past decade. Extending “Opportunity
Scholarships” to families that would otherwise be trapped in these schools will
mean students will have the opportunity to get a quality education. As Rev.
James Meeks –a state senator and a voucher advocate – put it, “Who could
begrudge students in a failing school a chance to get out if they want to get
you know as well as anyone that CTU is an obstacle to building quality schools.
Improving CPS from inside will be nearly impossible as long as the union
retains its power. CPS can only be improved from the outside, by bringing in
new competitors. We at the Illinois Policy Institute will continue to make the
case for structural change, but the people of Chicago deserve to hear the truth
from you, too.
Money is not needed to improve
education in Chicago, but political will is absolutely critical. We
don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but we believe you understand what’s at
stake. Now we hope to see you demonstrate the will to make education reform a