Ep. 50: Why so many parents are leaving Chicago Public Schools

Ep. 50: Why so many parents are leaving Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Public Schools students and families returned for the 2022-23 school year. But with record low enrollment, one-third of those schools will be half-empty. Mailee Smith joins the Policy Shop to share why militant tactics from the Chicago Teachers Union have led to higher CPS costs, lower enrollment and lower test scores.

This week’s Policy Shop is by Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy Mailee Smith.

Chicago Public Schools is the biggest school district in Illinois, but student enrollment has declined dramatically during the past decade. Even as the number of students continues to dwindle, funding for the district has jumped by nearly $2 billion during the past 10 years.

Back to school for a few. Thousands of Chicago Public Schools students returned to school Aug. 22, but some walked into nearly empty school buildings. In the past decade, CPS has lost more than 63,000 students – a 16% decrease in its student body. Most recently, CPS enrolled just over 330,000 students, marking an additional loss of 10,000 students since the previous year. About one-third of CPS’ traditional, non-charter schools are less than half full. Among those schools, the five most empty are at less than 10% capacity.

Funds are up. Yet despite the 10-year loss in student population, state and local funding for the district ballooned by nearly $2 billion from 2011 to 2021. In the most recent fiscal year for the 2022-2023 school year, CPS state and local funding increased to over $7 billion, representing an over 55% increase since 2012. This might be the lone positive trend in CPS – funding has continued to rise despite declining enrollment, offering the potential for CPS to spend more per pupil.

It’s not adding up, though. For Chicago taxpayers, this increase in funding is not welcome news. Instead of adjusting to the decline in students or increasing quality education, CPS has proved to be a bad steward of taxpayers’ money. District proficiency has steadily dwindled during the past decade despite more than a 40% increase in state and local funding. This steady drop in CPS students’ proficiency rates is concerning. In 2020-2021, the last school year for which student test score data is available, only 21% of students in third through eighth grades scored as proficient in reading and 16% in math. That’s 70% fewer students scoring at proficiency levels in reading, and nearly 80% fewer in math since the 2011-2012 school year.

CTU isn’t helping. Where is the union in all of this? Pushing for more power, of course. The Chicago Teachers Union has not shied from shuttering schools to strike over union leaders’ expensive demands, all while supporting moratoriums on public school closures, further perpetuating under-enrolled schools.

Many Chicago charter school bargaining agreements are expiring this summer, and CTU is positioning itself to grow its power by diminishing charter schools as an alternative for parents and students. CTU doesn’t have the best interests of charter schools or their students in mind. With 10 charter school contracts expiring, union leaders are primed to make a power grab and exert their influence over charter school operations.

CTU has continually sought its own agenda in district decisions, regardless of the benefit to students. And the militant reign of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators wing of the union, elected to CTU leadership in 2010, has produced 55% higher costs and a loss of nearly 80,000 students in the district. That’s what strong CTU influence over CPS has given district families.

Another power grab. If Amendment 1 passes in November, Illinois government union bosses would have the nation’s most extreme labor powers … codified in the state constitution. Already this year, CTU refused to teach students unless union demands were met, including demands over policy that were supposed to be decided by voters’ elected representatives. Amendment 1 would make it easier for unions to take control of those decisions, bypassing taxpayers and legislative bodies. It would embolden their continuing push for unaffordable wages and benefits.

Most state constitutions don’t even mention labor. And those that do tend to provide limits on union power. Instead of limiting union power, Amendment 1 would limit the ability of voters to have a say in their government.

Taxpayers are at risk of over $2,100 in guaranteed property tax hikes resulting from Amendment 1 handing government union bosses greater bargaining powers. If school kids have already suffered academically as CTU’s power has grown, imagine what a turbocharged union will mean to their educations.

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