It’s Not Only About a Salary: Why Chicago’s Teachers Walked off the Job

Educators have been denied raises, but they’re protesting cuts to student services too.
Chicago teachers picket during a one-day strike on April 1. (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Apr 1, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

With public education budgets being slashed coast to coast, tales of teachers having to pay for classroom supplies from their own pocket or hit up parents for everything from art supplies to funds for field trips are all too common. But in Chicago, anger over what public school teachers say is a lack of adequate funding for basic student services and resources boiled over on Friday into a one-day strike.

Nearly 400,000 students were forced to stay home as educators and their allies from Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter picketed outside schools and shut down streets in downtown Chicago. The city’s educators, led by the Chicago Teachers Union, have gripes over the way Chicago Public Schools, which is facing a $1.1 billion operating deficit, has denied them raises. However, they’re also outraged over the way the district has shuttered schools, laid off staff, increased class sizes, and cut resources for the neediest kids.

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Dozens of Shuttered Libraries in Majority-Black Schools
According to a post on the Chicago Teachers Union blog in December, only about one-third of high schools have a librarian, and heavily segregated schools on the South and West sides of the city “have been hit especially hard” by cuts. As the post details, only two schools with a student population greater than 90 percent black have a librarian on staff, down from 19 schools in 2012. “Across the 46 high schools with a majority African American student population, just 15 percent have librarians, and across the 28 high schools with an African American student population above 90 percent, just 7 percent do,” the post reads.

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Few Full-Time Nurses
Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo Elementary on the city’s West Side—who is also a member of the Chicago Teachers Union executive board—told Jacobin about the dire situation on her campus, one that is common across the district. “We only have one nurse right now for a couple days a week to serve 1,200 students. If a student is sick—maybe they vomited, maybe they have lice—they’re sent back to the classroom, because there’s no nurse there,” Chambers said.

There Are More Officers on Campus Than Counselors
A report released in March by education website The 74 revealed that for every 1,000 students, there are four security officers for every two school counselors. Most schools in Chicago only have one counselor to work with students, Chambers said. The lack of counselors has been seen in other cities, a factor which lessens the ability of low-income kids of color to be prepared for college admissions.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel condemned the strike during an appearance at a Chicago Park District facility that had provided activities for the city’s children. “I believe kids should be in school, learning. While I believe there is a legitimate point to be made, it should not be taken out at the expense of our children and their education,” Emanuel said.