Vallas: Money-hungry CTU forces a fiscal, student achievement crisis

Vallas: Money-hungry CTU forces a fiscal, student achievement crisis

The Chicago Teachers Union’s answer is always “more money.” But the question is why Chicago’s students are doing so poorly when there’s more money than ever to teach fewer of them.

When Chicago Public Schools announced 77,000 technology devices worth over $23 million went missing during the 2021-2022 school year, the response from Chicago Teachers Union leadership was status quo: a call for more funding.

There wasn’t a condemnation for stolen property. There wasn’t a call for student, teacher or school accountability. Their solution was for each of CPS’ 646 schools to get a technology coordinator to safeguard these devices.

That would require spending $49.5 million in salary and benefits to hire another 468 technology coordinators, based on the averages for the existing 178 CPS tech folks.

That’s CTU math: save $23 million by spending $49.5 million.

So, it comes as no surprise that CPS is forecasting an impending financial crisis. The district is projecting a $628 million budget deficit in 2025 when the COVID-19 relief funds run dry. It claims it only has 75% of the public funding it needs to adequately serve its students. That’s a staggering $1.4 billion budget shortfall. The district also claims it has $14 billion in capital needs.

The district already spends money less than efficiently. CPS spends nearly $30,000 per student and receives nearly 56% of all Chicagoans’ property taxes, 25% of all state K-12 funding and 40% of all the federal COVID-19 relief funding for Illinois’ public elementary and high schools. The district has seen its budget grow by 20% since 2019 – despite an 11% drop in enrollment – and now ranks second among big-city school districts in funding nationally.

What’s it done with all that new money? Academic proficiency has dwindled and CTU has become increasingly more political and power-driven.

In a recent post on their website, the CTU insisted the district requires $30 billion to fund a plan that, according to them, addresses “racial justice and districtwide educational and programmatic needs.” The union falsely claims the district is “focused on building out additions and expanding selective enrollment schools, while ignoring the systemic needs of struggling, severely under-enrolled South and West Side schools.”

The CTU seems to believe it’s impossible to improve student outcomes unless the entire city’s treasury is funneled into the schools. And in this, they have an ally in the mayor, who in his first six months has capitulated to the CTU to the tune of a $271 million infusion for CTU-dominated schools – consisting of a $226 million windfall from the tax increment financing surplus and the city absorbing an additional $45 million in school district pension costs.

With the new teachers contract expiring next summer, the CTU appears poised to insist on even more. The last contract cost the school district a staggering $1.5 billion and made CPS teachers among the highest-paid big district teachers in the nation. Yet it did not extend the school day or year by a single minute. It also failed to prevent the union from engaging in three work stoppages and shutting down the school campuses for 77 straight weeks, with devastating consequences.

CTU President Stacy Davis Gates repeats tired rhetoric, claiming the driving force behind negotiations on a new contract is “inequity and injustice that Black and Brown students and their families experience in this city.” Davis Gates is demanding smaller class sizes, more bilingual support staff to serve asylum-seekers’ children and building time into the school day for teachers to collaborate. In other words, less instructional time and higher salaries.

Full-time positions in CPS increased by 18.7% in the past three years, with 45,159 full-time positions budgeted for 2024, despite enrollment declines. The district now has one full-time employee for every seven student and one teacher for every 15 students.

The CTU still made efforts last year to secure a monopoly on Chicago education. They not only compelled state lawmakers to end the state’s tiny Invest in Kids scholarship program, they also took action to restrict public school choice by capping charter school renewals to two years.

The city does not deserve a school system that is both such a financial drain and such an academic failure.

To truly address inequality and injustice, CPS requires:

  • Decentralizing the school district so there’s more autonomy within each school building.
  • Allowing for the consolidation of under-enrolled schools.
  • Embracing high academic standards and accountability.
  • Empowering the community to select better school models.
  • Incorporating work-study into the high school experience.
  • Treating charter schools equitably and expanding both public and private school choice.

The teachers union will stand in the way of all these actions. They will oppose any measure that increases their workload or strengthens accountability. They will oppose any program that diminishes their ranks or outsources their work. Their agenda is more pay, more staff, less work, less accountability and no competition.

But the students deserve better and the public must demand more.

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