The Policy Shop: The Chicago Teachers Union’s Fringe Ideology, Explained
This edition of The Policy Shop is by Mailee Smith, staff attorney and director of labor policy.
People who go to the Illinois Statehouse almost always want something. One way to tell what they want is by looking at the legislation they support or oppose.
That’s one way we’ve learned so much about just how far-reaching the Chicago Teachers Union’s political agenda is.
How it works. On average, 5,000-7,000 bills are introduced each legislative session, which lasts for two years. 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. What a group “slips” on is a good clue as to its priorities.
The Chicago Teachers Union, the most radical and powerful teachers’ union in the country, slips … a lot.
CTU logged support or opposition over 1,360 times on at least 480 pending bills in the Illinois General Assembly’s six legislative sessions between 2011-2022, according to data obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute from the Illinois General Assembly.
CTU’s agenda isn’t just about Chicago. While many of the bills were related to education or employment issues, many were not. From curriculum to parents’ rights, CTU pressured lawmakers to bend to its legislative agenda on a spectrum of issues that affect school districts all over the state.
Its interests extend beyond education and employment, revealing a controversial stance on issues such as school safety, parental rights, curriculum and school choice.
Let’s look at what CTU wants. 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 a good spokesperson for what’s best for education in the state.
Yet it pressures lawmakers to bend to its will, affecting districts all over Illinois.
CTU has taken a seemingly counterintuitive approach. CTU slipped against a bill allowing a school board or district administrator to suspend (up to 10 days) or expel (up to two years) students convicted of a violent felony. “Violent felony” included first-degree murder, criminal sexual assault and aggravated arson.
But CTU 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.
Parental rights – CTU opposes them
The American Federation of Teachers – CTU’s parent affiliate – has pushed hard against parental involvement in public education. CTU has done the same, having advocated against bills that would keep parents informed on safety issues and curriculum. It has also supported 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.
CTU’s stance on curriculum has also drawn attention. It opposed bills allowing comprehensive reading and math intervention programs for young students but union leadership slipped in favor of a bill that promotes education curriculum for kindergarteners that included “sexual health.”
School choice – CTU opposes 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, and 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 altogether.
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.
Bottom line: CTU opposes any form of educational choice for parents in the state.
Proficiency also has declined. As of 2022, 80% of third through eight graders couldn’t read at grade level, and 85% could not do math. Similarly, 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.
As its influence grows, no one in Illinois is safe from CTU’s radical agenda.