October 10 2012

Education Secretary Arne Duncan Says Chicago Strike was “Great for Children”

Vicki E. Alger

Only in the bizarro world of education politics would a teachers union strike that shut down schools for a week, affecting 350,000 students, be hailed as “great for students” and an exemplar of “union and management coming together to create great public schools, to make sure every single school is a school of choice.”

But that’s exactly how U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan characterized the Chicago Teachers Union strike from last month. When asked why the CTU couldn’t have reached a deal without striking, Duncan demurred, saying “it was a difficult journey to get there” (starting at 20 seconds). While he said he didn’t know all of the details, he views the CTU strike as a microcosm for the kind of “tough-minded collaboration” going on all around the country to make “great public schools” that are all “schools of choice.”

Huh?

Chicago public schools were shut down for a week. Is Duncan suggesting that a closed public school is a good public school? Is he intimating that Chicago public school parents could use one of the state’s tax-credit or voucher scholarship programs to attend a private school? Whoops—Illinois doesn’t have one of those programs. (It does have a $500 tax credit for educational expenses, though—but that doesn’t help public school students locked out of classrooms because the grown-ups are engaged in “tough-minded collaboration.”)

Is Duncan suggesting that Chicago parents exercise their rights under the state’s parent trigger law? Whoops again—Illinois isn’t one of the seven states that allows parents to take over failing—or in this case, closed—public schools.

As The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke explained, Chicago teachers essentially got a lot more while students will get a whole lot more of the same:

The union secured a 3 percent salary increase in the first year, a 2 percent raise in the second year, a 2 percent raise in the third year, and a 3 percent raise if the current contract is extended to a fourth year. Prior to the negotiated raise, Chicago public school (CPS) teachers were already among the highest paid in the country, taking home an average of $76,000 per year. When plush pension benefits are included—a $77,400 payment per year, for life, for a 30 year retiree in the system—total compensation is extravagant. Those lavish benefits and salaries are, of course, financed by Illinois taxpayers across the state, whose average family income is $47,000 per year.

Notably, the contract protects step increases in pay, which reward teachers based on credentials acquired and length of time served, not on classroom effectiveness. The union also thwarted a merit pay proposal Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) was seeking, which would have rewarded the best teachers for improving the academic outcomes of students.

In the end, CPS is still stuck with a $665 million deficit, nearly another $340 million in pension back-payments, contributing to a virtually bankrupt teacher pension retirement system, and now thanks to this great CTU “deal” add another $50 million just to hire about 500 more teachers for non-core subjects.

But hey, when it’s “for the children,” what’s a few billion dollars here and there?

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