I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, April 3, 2016

You Know What Doesn't Help Chicago's Students? Tut-Tutting At the CTU

It looks like Peter Cunningham has decided to take the $12 million in initial grants he got from America's reformiest billionaires and use it to fight back against what everyone who's anyone knows is the greatest threat to American education:

Teachers unions! (shudder)

Education Post, the golden, honeycombed beehive from which Cunningham dispatches his reformy swarm, is buzzing with righteous indignation at the Chicago Teachers Union for daring engage in a one-day strike whose purpose was to call attention to, among many injustices, the massive underfunding suffered by the city's schools.

Reading the Education Post pieces on the strike (the things I do for you people...), a common theme emerges: yes, we know the Chicago schools and students are suffering, but gee willikers, this strike is just the wrong way to solve the problem!

Andrew Broy"Whatever one may think of this action, one thing is certainly clear: This “strike” does nothing to solve the real problems faced by a district staggering under the weight of fiscal pressures and a seemingly interminable state budget standoff. At a time when all interested parties should be united in fixing a student funding formula that penalizes low-wealth school districts, the CTU prefers to wage war against city leadership in a display of faux progressivism."

Frissia Sanchez"I actually agree with the union that our state and city have massively underfunded education and it’s time to right that wrong. But I am very disappointed in CTU leadership and how they are handling teachers who oppose the so-called Day of Action."

Maureen Kelleher: "Even though I’m a charter school parent, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what the CTU has to say about the problems with education funding and how to solve them. They’re right that Illinois needs a progressive income tax to raise the revenue needed for essential public services, including schools. They’re right that toxic debt swaps enrich bankers and deprive our children of educational resources. They’re right that Chicago needs tax increment financing (TIF) reform. But a one-day strike is more likely to annoy CTU’s most precious allies—parents—than to pressure targets like the mayor and the governor into changing their policies."

And, of course, the big boss himself: "The union’s website talks about the governor, the mayor and “the 1 percent,” “threats” to cut pensions, more funding for public education, higher wages for private sector workers, support services in schools and communities, higher taxes, smaller classes, a promise of no budget cuts, restrictions on charter schools and an elected school board. It’s unclear how the walkout makes any of these outcomes more likely."

Got that? Everyone admits CTU is making a valid point -- the only problem is that they're doing something about it!

Jersey Jazzman (artist's conception)

To be fair, Education Post is only saying what so many other teachers union bashers in the press have said: they admit that there is a serious underfunding problem for the Chicago Public Schools while simultaneously wagging their fingers at CTU for daring to do something to draw attention to the situation. Here, for example, is the Chicago Tribune editorial board,* admitting CPS is in a fiscal tailspin but still chiding the union for going on strike: 
This bond deal expands and extends the debt load of a school district that's already hopelessly overextended. Or rather, the debt load of Chicago taxpayers who are on the hook for all this principal and interest: CPS expects to pay $538 million in debt service this year on the total of $6.2 billion it owed before this bond sale. This school year, that debt service will divert about $1,370 for every student to the district's lenders. 
This crisis won't be solved by a teachers strike. It won't be solved by declarations of "war" between labor and management. It won't be solved by counting on windfalls from taxes that don't currently exist.
Yeah, and it won't be solved by union-bashing editorials either, will it?

The Trib, of course, lives in a fantasy world where teachers don't need to eat or feed their own kids, so all of CPS's fiscal problems can be solved by educators giving back more and more while Illinois' wealthy enjoy extraordinarily regressive state and local tax rates.

What is undeniable -- so much so that even the Education Post crew knows it -- is that Chicago has suffered from a systemic, chronic underfunding of its schools. Charter school proliferation hasn't helped, but even putting that aside, Chicago's schools, more than any other large city in the nation except Philadelphia, are the victims of inadequate resources

Everyone who is willing to look honestly at this knows it's true -- so here are my questions for Cunningham and the swarm:

1) At least twice, Eva Moskowitz, the queen bee of New York's charter sector, has closed her schools and sent her students up to Albany to rally for, among other things, funding for her charter network. Where, may I ask, was your indignation then? It seems to me you actually encouraged pulling those kids out of school to protest on behalf of their school leaders' agenda. Why weren't charter parents supposed to be "annoyed" at their kids missing school if CPS parents were allegedly "annoyed" by CTU's action?

2) What have you people done to get Chicago's public schools the additional money most of you admit they need?

I won't claim to have read everything Education Post has written about Chicago's schools. But when I see posts that lament the costs of teacher pensions (even while admitting CPS teachers are not at all in the wrong) or chide Governor Rauner and the CTU equally without even mentioning the possibility of a tax hike on the wealthy, I have to wonder what the agenda is here.

The only other thing I could find at the site that comes close to suggesting schools need more funding comes from a guest post by Nick Albares from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. I've referred to the report Albares cites many times myself, but even his post doesn't dare suggest an obvious fix: raise taxes on the wealthy and use the funds to invest more in schools.

If Peter Cunningham's crew has pushed repeatedly and strongly for increasing revenue via taxation on the upper-class so that schools can get more funds, I missed it. Swarm (I know you're reading), please correct me if I'm wrong. Until then...

It is more than a little grating to see an outlet funded by the super-rich tut-tutting at Chicago's middle class teachers for daring to take a one-day action to point out the chronic underfunding of Chicago's schools -- especially when their own calls to increase funding for CPS are so weak.

Look, Peter, I know the big boys who are financing your shop don't like it when us plebes point out they are taking almost all of the economic gains of the last couple of decades for themselves. I also know you have an ideological predilection for beating up on unions. I'm not so naive as to think I or anyone else can ever change that...

But maybe it's time to start getting your priorities straight. Who really needs a shaming here: CPS's teachers and the union that represents them, or the people who have all the money but won't give it up for our schools?

Don't listen to him! Keep blaming the teachers unions!

* I always thought the Star-Ledger's editorial board was the worst in America when it comes to education.  But after having scanned the Trib for a bit, I have to admit I was wrong. My sympathies, Chicago.


Ajay Srikanth said...

Ha yeah the Tribune is the worst. There are some good writers in Chicago thankfully (Ben Joravsky of The Chicago Reader is excellent, particularly on TIFs). Also, do these fools know that literally every other tactic to get funding has been tried? The courts have punted on adequate funding multiple times:


The Legislature isn't going to bother unless they are pressured into doing so. And Rauner literally wants the school district to fail. Peter Cunningham can read this before he continues his fawning praise for Chicago charters:


After working there for 6 years (both as a teacher and with the Board), I can say without hesitation that the people who really give a damn about the students are teachers and people actually in schools

Peter Cunningham said...


Peter Cunningham here. For the record, we posted a video of two teachers -- one supporting the strike and one opposing. I have written extensively on the need for more funding for schools citing studies showing that about 30 states are still at pre-recession funding levels. I called for a massive increase in federal funding because states and districts will never make equity a reality. I served in an administration that provided $100B more to education, including $50B explicitly to save teaching jobs at the height of the recession -- with no string attached. By contrast, the "reform" part of the stimulus was just $5B. On twitter I regularly affirm my support for higher taxes and The Chicago administration I worked for -- Mayor Daley's -- raised property taxes for schools every year and almost always to the cap. Teacher raises in Chicago have far outpaced inflation since 1995, when mayoral control began.

My opposition to the strike is tactical and political. If CPS and CTU were reaching some agreements on shared sacrifice and locking arms to put pressure on Springfield we might actually solve this problem in a way that protects kids, jobs, pensions and boosts salaries. Instead the CTU gins up anger at Rahm and feeds Rauner's agenda. As Ms. Kelleher wrote, we don't disagree with much of what the CTU is saying. We just wonder how a one-day, illegal strike helps.

We'll see if it leads to a better outcome.

edlharris said...

So, Peter, CTU bad, Eva good?

Ajay Srikanth said...

Peter, I'll also ask you did you oppose charter schools taking a day off to go to a rally in Springfield in 2014? Keep in mind this rally was to oppose being asked to comply with federal and state regulations for ELLs (charters opposed bilingual education, especially UNO):


Also, a work stoppage seems to be the only way to get anyone's attention there. And as I recall during the 2012 strike, parents overwhelmingly favored the CTU over the Board and Mayor Emanuel

Sue Alexander said...

The Chicago Public Schools have three scheduled furlough days this year. The first was one week before the strike. Obviously it is ok for the District to close school for a day to save money, but not for the union to do so in protest.