CTU strikes mostly harm minority students, low income families

Bryce Hill

Director of Fiscal and Economic Research

Bryce Hill
October 7, 2019

CTU strikes mostly harm minority students, low income families

While the city, Chicago Public Schools and taxpayers are all at financial risk from Chicago Teachers Union demands, it is ultimately students who will pay the highest price if the union strikes for the third time in seven years.

The Chicago Teachers Union plans to strike Oct. 17 if their contract demands aren’t met, but the greatest costs of that decision will be paid by students.

Experts agree that students suffer when teachers strike. Growth in student test scores could be reduced by 2.2% for elementary school students. Time away from the classroom, especially if the strike drags on, most harms subjects such as mathematics.

This is bad news for Chicago Public School students whose outcomes are already worse than the state’s average. CPS has recently experienced several years of declining graduation rates, and already produces grads at a lower rate than the rest of the state. CPS student test scores also lag the rest of the state.

The harms are not limited to the short term: Students’ futures as adults are at stake. That is because higher math achievement and lower dropout rates are associated with substantial increases in future incomes. Nurturing academics and graduation rates can close income gaps between low- and middle-income students. Academic experts agree student outcomes are strongly correlated with their future job prospects.

Some studies have even suggested that teacher strikes themselves can be responsible for lower earnings and higher unemployment rates of students in the future.

This is especially bad news for the city’s minority students. Black and Hispanic Illinoisans already face higher unemployment rates and lower wages than their white counterparts. CPS’ student body is 90% minority and 83% low income. The implications for these students is especially concerning given the wide racial disparities in the Illinois labor market, where black residents are 2.5 times as likely to be unemployed and households earn 48% less, and Hispanic residents are 20% more likely to be unemployed and households earn 26% less compared to their white counterparts.

CTU’s strike vote comes in the face of an extremely generous offer from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Lightfoot’s administration accepted a neutral fact finder’s recommendation and offered a contract to CTU that includes a 16% salary increase spread over five years, along with a 1% total increase in health insurance premiums during the last three of the five years. The current $79,000 average teacher salary would increase to almost $100,000 under Lightfoot’s offer, taking into account the automatic annual “step” increases for seniority.

But CTU rejected the deal crafted by the neutral party they helped pick. Instead, they plan to walk out on students Oct. 17 over a lengthy list of demands that includes:

  • A 15% pay hike across the board during the next three years
  • Reduced health insurance payments
  • Hiring over 4,000 new support staff
  • 55 additional community schools
  • CPS agreement to advocate for policies such as a corporate head tax, a millionaire tax and rent control

CTU’s demands for extra staffing, community schools and 5% annual salary increases would alone cost more than $1.1 billion over three years. Lightfoot’s proposed salary increases and planned additional staffing would total $216 million over the same period.

Amid the ongoing conversations regarding CTU’s potential third strike in seven years, it is crucial to recognize the effects strikes have on students. Minority students in Chicago already face greater challenges to their futures compared to their white counterparts, and another CTU strike could unnecessarily make their lives more difficult.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!