K-12 Blues
More Chaos at Chicago Public Schools

When Chicago parents got confirmation this morning that their children’s school was canceled for the day, some of them may have hoped it was an April Fools’ stunt by clever students. Alas, it wasn’t. Time magazine:

Thousands of Chicago teachers went on a one-day strike Friday to put pressure on the government to address insufficient public school funding.

According to the Washington Post, the strike, organized by the Chicago Teachers Union, comes during a nine-month budget standoff between Illinois’ Republican Governor and Democratic legislature, which has left public schools, universities and state scholarships floundering without adequate funding. Contract negotiations have also stalled between the union and public school system.

“It’s a shame that we’ve had to strike to make our voices heard,” union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said at a picket line at a local high school Friday morning, the Chicago Tribune wrote. “We must have revenue to fund our schools, and a broken state budget that shuts off vital social services to the people of Chicago is unacceptable.”

This last comment is telling, because it points to a structural problem that is contributing to this dysfunction (Chicago teachers have been threatening strikes regularly for the last several years): namely, that people who live outside of Chicago, and have no voice in how the Chicago schools are run, must be taxed in order to provide the money to run Chicago schools the way the Chicago city government—or, more accurately, the Chicago Teachers Union—thinks they should be run.

A big part of blue state politics is the effort to equalize school spending across districts; rich Illinois suburbs can afford better schools than poor towns and cities, so they are asked to send extra money to Springfield to subsidize underfunded schools in Chicago. And it’s not just Illinois—state Democratic parties across the country are eager to subsidize schools in poor places with money raised in rich ones. (Incidentally, this may be one reason Democrats are struggling at the state level).

There is nothing wrong with this arrangement in and of itself—money should be redirected to children from poor families. The problem is that there is no countervailing understanding that if Illinoisans at large are going to pay for Chicago’s schools, sooner or later taxpayers will want some say in how the schools are managed. (The available evidence suggests that they are not being managed well, to say the least). But when Springfield tries to impose cuts or reforms, as it is now, political interests in Chicago fight them tooth and nail.

For the Chicago Teachers Union, the ideal would be to have Springfield raise money from far outside of the city limits and redirect it to Chicago without any oversight. That way, local politicians can bribe them with out-of-town voter money to get their support in local politics. It’s nice work if you can get it—and in many places, public sector workers have had it and want to keep it.

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