CTU told lawmakers what to do over 1,360 times in just 6 legislative sessions

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
June 8, 2023

CTU told lawmakers what to do over 1,360 times in just 6 legislative sessions

The Chicago Teachers Union pours money into political campaigns, but that isn’t all. It also pressures lawmakers to abide by its legislative agenda. It’s a one-two political punch: helping elect lawmakers and then telling them what to do.

A recent New York Times Magazine article stated, “It’s no longer possible to separate education from politics, and public schools are more vulnerable than they’ve ever been.”

The best example of the deep ties between education and politics is probably the Chicago Teachers Union. Not only does CTU heavily fund political campaigns in Illinois, it also is a major political player in Springfield.

In the Illinois General Assembly’s six legislative sessions between 2011-2022, CTU logged support or opposition over 1,360 times on at least 480 pending bills, according to data obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute from the Illinois General Assembly.

While many of the bills were related to education or employment issues, many were not. Many weren’t even related strictly to Chicago.

CTU opposed legislation allowing a school district to suspend or expel students convicted of violent felonies. It opposed grant money being used to hire school resource officers to protect kids in schools.

It opposed legislation allowing schools to offer comprehensive reading and math intervention programs for kindergarten through third grade students. It supported education curriculum for kindergarteners that included “sexual health.”

This report – the first in a series – focuses specifically on education. From school safety to school choice, CTU advocates policies that could hurt students and their families and that many families and taxpayers would disagree with:

  • Safety: CTU pushes policies restricting police presence and discipline of students that could put other students in danger
  • Parental rights: CTU would keep parents in the dark on their children’s safety and instruction
  • Curriculum: CTU prioritizes non-core, controversial subjects over core subjects such as math and reading
  • School choice: CTU works to limit educational options for parents and students
  • Student focus: CTU opposes legislation prioritizing direct classroom spending over other district spending

Enrollment and proficiency have both tanked since a radical slate of leaders took over CTU in 2010. With that kind of track record, CTU isn’t an authority to trust about what’s best for education in the state.

Yet it pressures lawmakers to bend to its will, reaching past Chicago to damage students’ educations all over Illinois.

CTU “slipped” more than 1,360 times on at least 480 bills between 2011-2022

A session of the Illinois General Assembly runs for two years, starting in odd-numbered years. On average, 5,000-7,000 bills are introduced each legislative session. But introduction of a bill doesn’t guarantee movement.

Most bills never have a committee hearing. But when they do, the public – including government unions and lobbyists – can lodge a witness slip supporting or opposing the bills.

An entity’s witness slip for or against a bill doesn’t indicate a reason for the stance. It’s more of an up or down vote. But examined together, an entity’s slips over time provide a solid idea of its priorities and agenda.

CTU has used the process to slip at least 1,361 times on 480 bills in the past six legislative sessions, according to data obtained by Illinois Policy Institute from the Illinois General Assembly.

Many of the bills were related to education and supposedly within the union’s wheelhouse. But the union didn’t necessarily slip the way the public – and particularly parents – would expect. Many of CTU’s stances would harm kids and their families.

CTU’s stances could hurt kids and parents

From safety issues to school choice, CTU’s stances run contrary to what parents in the state may want for their kids.

School safety

It’s hard to imagine a teacher’s union advocating for situations that allow violent felons to come to school, while also decreasing school resource officer presence.

But that’s where CTU’s advocacy leads.

CTU slipped against a bill allowing a school board or other district leaders to suspend (up to 10 days) or expel (up to two years) students convicted of violent felonies. “Violent felony” included first-degree murder, criminal sexual assault and aggravated arson. Set a fatal fire at school and CTU sees no reason to oust that student?

Yet the union also slipped in favor of a bill allowing the Illinois State Board of Education to award competitive grants to districts that reallocate funding away from school-based law enforcement personnel to other practices, such as “restorative justice programs” and use of social workers. Grant funds were explicitly prohibited from being used to increase the use of school-based security personnel.

The bill also prohibited arrest of students for criminal offenses committed during school hours and on school grounds except in specific instances, and even then there could be exceptions. For example, a student could be arrested for physical violence against another person, but only if the arrest was necessary to avoid an ongoing threat to the physical safety of other members of the school community. In other words, a student could assault another student or teacher, but as long as the student was stopped or isolated, there could be no arrest on school grounds.

Similarly, CTU slipped against a bill allowing school safety and security grants to law enforcement agencies to help defray the costs associated with hiring a school resource officer.

And while CTU would prohibit the expulsion of violent felons while supporting a decreased police presence, the union also opposed the use of metal detectors in schools, slipping against a bill requiring public schools to install walk-through metal detectors at public entrances and directing the Illinois State Board of Education to make grants available, subject to appropriation. The bill also would have required medical detectors at institutions of higher education, hospitals and courthouses.

Parental rights

The American Federation of Teachers – CTU’s parent affiliate – has pushed hard against parental involvement in public education. CTU has done the same, advocating against bills that would keep parents informed on safety issues as well as curriculum.

CTU slipped against a bill requiring a school district to notify parents a school employee has been charged with a sex offense within seven days of receiving that information. Similarly, it slipped against a bill, which still passed, requiring a district superintendent’s notification to the state superintendent related to a teacher’s dismissal or resignation because of an intentional act of abuse or neglect to include the teacher’s education identification number and a brief description of the alleged conduct.

It also slipped in favor of at least three bills that could allow a school district to hide from a student’s parents that he or she has been a victim of sexual violence. Parents could inspect the student’s records only if the student consented. If the student had any “health or safety concerns” that were not “satisfied to the student’s satisfaction,” then the student’s status as a victim of sexual violence “shall not be disclosed.”

As for curriculum, CTU slipped against a bill requiring school districts with 300 or more students to post a list of learning materials and activities that were used for student instruction in the previous school year. That would include, for example, the title and author of textbooks or any guest lectures.


Look at the stances CTU took on curriculum and it’s a little more obvious why it wants to keep parents in the dark about what goes on at school. From opposing math and reading intervention programs for younger grades to supporting sex ed for kindergarteners, CTU slipped on more than 30 bills related to public school curriculum.

CTU slipped against a bill allowing schools to offer comprehensive reading and math intervention programs for kindergarten through third-grade students and summer math and reading camps for third-grade students. The bill also would have required notice to parents if their kindergarten through third-grade students exhibited a deficiency in reading or math and that students must demonstrate sufficient proficiency to be promoted to fourth grade.

The union slipped against a bill prohibiting school districts from limiting the number of dual credit classes or credits, thereby limiting the number of college credits a student can obtain before graduating high school.

On the other hand, the union slipped in favor of a bill, which passed, laying out criteria for “comprehensive sexual health education.”

The bill requires the Illinois State Board of Education to “develop and adopt rigorous learning standards in the area of comprehensive personal health and safety education for pupils in kindergarten through 5th grade.” “Comprehensive personal health and safety education” is defined as education that aligns with the National Sex Education Standards, including information on puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity and sexual health. According to the National Sex Education Standards for kindergarten to second grade, “sexual health” is explained as including the ability to “define reproduction.” Other portions of the standards include discussing the range of ways people express their gender and listing medically accurate names for body parts, including genitals.

School choice

Nearly two-thirds of Illinois voters – 62% – support school choice, according to a poll conducted for the Illinois Policy Institute by Echelon Insights. Just 29% oppose it.

CTU stands with the minority, opposing school choice. And while 59% of Illinoisans favor the Invest in Kids Act – the tax credit program that has provided scholarships for thousands of low-income students to attend the schools of their choice – CTU has advocated killing it.

In all, CTU slipped on at least 50 bills affecting school choice and charter schools between 2011-2022.

It didn’t seem to matter what kind of school choice program the Illinois General Assembly considered. CTU opposed them, slipping against at least four bills, with only one passing, to create programs to provide students with scholarships to attend nonpublic school. It also slipped against at least four bills creating programs to provide students with vouchers to attend nonpublic schools.

As for the Invest in Kids Act, the union slipped in favor of a bill limiting the tax credit potential for donors to the program, which would make donating to the program less attractive.

CTU also worked to stymie the growth of charter schools. For example, the union slipped against at least three bills removing limits on the total number of charter schools that can operate statewide or in the city of Chicago. Current law limits charter schools to 120 statewide, with no more than 70 in Chicago and no more than 45 in the rest of the state. The bills would have removed the limits.

CTU also slipped for a bill, which passed, extending a moratorium on the creation of charter schools that have virtual-schooling components. The bill only affected charters in school districts outside of Chicago.

Similarly, the union slipped in favor of a bill prohibiting the opening of a charter school in any ZIP code in which a public school was closed in the previous 10 years. It would also prohibit the opening of charter schools in ZIP codes contiguous to a ZIP code where a public school was closed.

CTU also opposed university authorization of charter schools for dropouts, slipping against a bill allowing four-year universities in Chicago to serve as the charter authorizer for a multi-site charter school devoted exclusively to re-enrolled high school dropouts. That’s in addition to slipping in favor of a bill to completely abolish the State Charter School Commission.

As for ensuring adequate funding for charter schools – forget about it. CTU slipped against several bills that would have raised the minimum funding for charter schools.

Finally, CTU wasn’t about to allow parents in low-performing schools to have a say in school reforms. It slipped against a bill allowing parents of at least 51% of students at low-performing schools to initiate reform measures through a petition process. Potential reforms included reopening as a charter school, changing school leadership or adopting a new school governance structure.

Bottom line: CTU opposes any form of educational choice for parents, anywhere in the state.

Student focus

CTU’s opposition to putting more focus on students through classroom spending also defies expectations.

CTU slipped against a bill requiring at least 65% of a district’s spending to be on direct classroom expenditures, rather than on other priorities. While the bill didn’t explicitly define “direct classroom expenditures,” it referenced the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education, which doesn’t define that specific term, either, but lists teacher salaries, supplies and technology as “expenditures that are directly related to providing instruction and for activities that assist with classroom instruction.” Of course, a bill ensuring funding to classrooms could have undermined funding for unrelated provisions CTU has demanded in negotiations in the past, such as the creation of affordable housing, and thus drawn CTU’s ire.

CTU’s track record within CPS makes it a poor influence in Springfield on education

The results of CTU’s influence within CPS show the union isn’t well-positioned to tell lawmakers how to run the state’s education system.

Since 2010, when a radical slate of union leaders took over CTU, enrollment has dropped within the district by nearly 90,000 students. One-third of schools are half full and CTU blocks them from being merged.

Proficiency also has declined. Between 2010 and 2014, the share of students considered proficient in reading dropped by 29%; in math, that share dropped 30%. After a change in state testing, student proficiency dropped 33% in reading and 31% in math between 2015 and 2022.

As of 2022, 80% of third through eight graders couldn’t read at grade level, and 85% could not do math. Similarly, nearly 80% of 11th graders couldn’t read or do math at grade level.

Members First, a caucus of teachers within CTU, has said the current leadership is “far more focused on advancing their own political careers” than doing what is best for teachers or students.

But CTU’s questionable influence on CPS and poor educational outcomes haven’t stopped the union from trying to control what goes on in Springfield – and in small and large districts throughout the state. Many of the bills it slipped on, from curriculum to parents’ rights, affect school districts across the state.

No one in Illinois is safe from CTU’s influence, which begs the question: How often are Chicago union bosses’ interests in the best interests of our children?

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

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!