Chicago Teachers Union tried to kill bill to help students earn early college credit

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
December 27, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union tried to kill bill to help students earn early college credit

A recent study found less than one-third of Chicago Public Schools graduates earn their bachelor’s in four years. Yet back in 2018, the Chicago Teachers Union tried to kill legislation giving students a head start on college.

Taking dual credit classes in high school has a positive impact on college success and reduces the time it takes to get a college decree, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s resource, “The power of dual enrollment: The equitable expansion of college access and success.”

In the department’s terms, dual enrollment is “one of many terms used to describe a program that allows high school students to take a college course and earn both high school and college credit.”

In Chicago political terms, dual enrollment is apparently a threat to the Chicago Teachers Union’s monopoly over education. The union tried to limit it.

It all went down in 2018, when the union filed opposition to a bill that would allow high school students to take an unlimited amount of dual credit courses in high school. The bill ultimately passed, despite CTU’s efforts.

Among many potential reasons for the opposition – which is not recorded in the Illinois General Assembly’s list of opponents – is likely that dual credit programs hand some power over to a collaborating college or university. Under Illinois law, the collaborating institution gets to evaluate an educators’ qualifications for teaching a dual credit course. That means an independent entity, and not just CTU’s collective bargaining agreement with the district, could play some role in the program.

The union’s past opposition to expanding dual credit options is important in light of a recent report by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

That report found CPS graduates struggle to get through college in six years, with less than one-third earning their bachelor’s degree in four years. Nationally, nearly half of students earned their bachelor’s in four years.

Among the costs to students who do not graduate college in the expected four years are extra tuition costs and delayed entry into jobs.

And yet CTU lobbied against an important tool in getting kids through college. As the U.S. Department of Education puts it, “Dual enrollment is an evidence-based practice that can play a powerful role in improving student outcomes. It can also be a means for students to save time and money and for them to develop a college-going identity with confidence in their ability to enroll in and be successful in higher education.”

CTU wasn’t alone in lobbying against unlimited dual credit for high schoolers. It was joined by the Illinois Education Association’s Sean Denney, who enrolls his own kids in private school while lobbying to kill school choice for lower-income families, as well as the Illinois Federation of Teachers and even CPS itself.

A system is broken when a school district and teachers unions lobby to limit college credit for high schoolers.

But that’s not unusual for CTU, which has a long history of limiting educational options for kids. In the Illinois General Assembly’s six legislative sessions between 2011-2022, CTU logged support or opposition on at least 50 bills affecting school choice or charter schools.

It didn’t seem to matter what kind of school choice program the Illinois General Assembly considered. CTU opposed them all. It also worked to stymie the grown of charter schools, a public school choice option.

More recently, the union was instrumental in killing the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program, which allowed private donors to receive a tax credit for contributing to scholarships which were then used by lower-income families across the state.

Clearly, CTU is not for robust education, and certainly not for educational options that benefit low-income families. Just like lawmakers rebuffed the union and passed an act allowing unlimited dual credit for high schoolers, it’s time the Illinois General Assembly stopped listening to CTU leaders on other issues.

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