Chicago Teachers Union funds lawmakers; record shows it gets what it wants

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
October 20, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union funds lawmakers; record shows it gets what it wants

With the Illinois General Assembly’s veto session approaching, here’s what the Chicago Teachers Union has pushed in Springfield so far in 2023.

The Chicago Teachers Union is a political behemoth, and it impacts more than just Chicago.

In the six sessions between 2011-2022, the union told state lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly what to do over 1,360 times, including on more than 50 bills related to school choice and charter schools. Current lawmakers have received more than $1.2 million from the union.

The union subsequently registered its opinion an additional 55 times on 34 bills between Jan. 1, 2023, and June 30, 2023, according to Illinois General Assembly data.

As the legislature’s fall “veto session” approaches, here is what has happened with those bills so far.

CTU registered its support for 33 bills – with nearly 2 out of every 3 enacted

CTU registered its support for 33 bills between Jan. 1 and June 30. Of those, 21 were enacted during the spring legislative session.

The bills’ topics ranged from social work licensure to school curriculum.

In line with the union’s long history of opposition to and undermining of charter schools, it also registered support for a bill, which was enacted, requiring union neutrality clauses in all charter contract renewals or proposals. These clauses effectively push charter school operators to support a union’s attempt to organize its staff, making it easier for CTU or other unions in Illinois to unionize charter schools.

CTU registered its opposition for just one bill – and it has not passed

CTU opposed only one bill during the General Assembly’s spring session. The bill would create education savings accounts so low-income parents could better afford to send their children to the schools of their choice.

The bill would create a program in which the state could deposit into an eligible student’s account some or all of the aid that would have gone to the student’s public school district. Parents could then use that money for tuition, textbooks and other education-related expenses. Students who qualify for the federal free or reduced-lunch program would receive the most money.

It appears CTU’s advocacy has successfully denied resources to low-income parents once again, as the bill has not made it out of committee.

A CTU v. Illinois showdown is brewing for veto session

Perhaps the most hotly anticipated issue is the potential demise of the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program, which allows a tax credit for donor-provided scholarships to low-income families so their children can attend the schools that best fit their needs.

The program will expire at the end of the year if lawmakers don’t enact a bill that extends it. Thousands of low-income children across Illinois will lose their scholarships for the next school year.

And it’s setting up to be a showdown between CTU and the rest of Illinois, and particularly Black and Hispanic residents.

Most Illinoisans support the program. A June poll conducted by Echelon Insights on behalf of the Illinois Policy Institute found voters support the program 3 to 1. The program has at least 60% support from each main political ideology, with independents most in favor at 67%.

Another poll found 71% of Black voters and 81% of Hispanic voters backed it.

More recently, a poll by a research firm popular among Democrats shows all voters, but especially minority and low-income voters, strongly support Illinois’ Invest in Kids program to provide private school scholarships to disadvantaged students.

The poll surveyed 600 Illinois voters and found:

  • Black voters supported the program by nearly 5-1.
  • 74% of Latino voters were in favor of the program.
  • Low-income voters were 4-1 in favor.
  • Parents supported the program by 58% to 22% opposed.

CTU, however, opposes the program and wants it to end “for good.” CTU’s allies are also lobbying for the demise of the program. The Illinois Federation of Teachers has called on their followers to “keep the pressure on lawmakers to sunset” the program. The Illinois Education Association earlier celebrated the seeming demise of the program – and the end of educational options for low-income families – when the spring legislative session ended and it had not been extended.

Veto session, the last chance to extend the program, is set for Oct. 24-26 and Nov. 7-9, 2023.

The decision will come down to whether lawmakers hear the 9,600 kids who benefit from the program and the majority of voters, or the CTU.

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