As last-minute negotiations proved fruitless, the Chicago Teachers Union moved forward with a planned strike today leaving 350,000+ students without teachers — the city's first teachers union strike since a 3-week walkout in 1987.
The CTU was offered a 16% pay raise implemented over four years, but the proposal was rejected. Union President Karen Lewis said that the salary upgrade wasn't the main issue; health benefits, job security guarantees and reforms to the city's teacher evaluation system remained as significant sticking points.
Chicago's 26,000 teachers receive an average salary of ~$76,000 according to Chicago Public Schools. The median family income in Chicago is ~$47,000.
Some schools have remained open with administrators manning confused children and others providing free meals. Churches and community groups have also picked up the slack to provide relief for families struggling to adjust their schedules around the strike.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded aggressively, calling the labor action a "strike of choice" and the "wrong choice for our children." At This Week in Education, Alexander Russo posted videos of both Emanuel and Lewis, both of whom have received criticism that their sides were eager to see a strike.
The strike also has national significance, as both President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — who was formerly Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools — call the city home.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Obama has not commented on the strike, which drew criticism from political opponents such as Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, who pointed out on Twitter that today the President spoke about rapper Nicki Minaj's lyrics, but not the Chicago teachers strike. Secretary Duncan's office has also not yet released a statement.
The Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential sums up the White House's reaction:
"It's our view that the sides on this dispute in Chicago can and should work it out," Carney said adding that "the interests of Chicago's children that must be preeminent as they work it out."
When asked by ABC's Jake Tapper if it was fair to characterize the White House as "neutral" on the strike, Carney reiterated that the White House wasn't choosing sides."
Other unions have expressed support for the CTU, including the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), who said:
"NYSUT stands united with the CTU as it fights for a just and fair outcome that meets the needs of Chicago's teachers and staff as well as the students and communities they serve. We are monitoring the situation closely and (are) prepared to do whatever necessary to support our sisters and brothers in the CTU."
"The American Federation of Teachers and our members across the country stand firmly with the CTU, and we will support its members in their efforts to secure a fair contract that will enable them to give their students the best opportunities."
Views from Around the Blogosphere
ChoiceMediaTV's Education Reform Minute notes that private and charter schools are still in session.
Cristina Lamas and Alex Entz, students at Northwestern University, say that the union is focusing on the wrong issues — and kids and their families are paying the price.
Dave Murray of mlive.com wonders whether the friction over evaluations will cause serious issues in other areas — such as Michigan.
John Fund writing at National Review's The Corner blog points out that 71 cents of every new dollar spent on education in Illinois for the last five years has gone to teacher retirement costs.
The Education Action Group noticed that when Los Angeles teachers tried to encourage union solidarity, they made a few basic mistakes.
Sabrina Stevens explains that the strike is about policies, not salaries:
"â¦ as Chicago teachers strike today, they are doing so to promote the shared interests of the entire Chicago community. From the children who stand benefit from smaller classes, more arts programs, libraries, and social workers who can enrich their lives; to the community whose local economy would benefit from more working professionals who can pay for the things businesses sell– as well as the extra child care and other expenses many of those professionals will incur if they work a longer day; to the educators themselves, who stand to win both the fair pay and dignity they're due for their hard work."
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee PAC disputes the $76,000 average salary figure for Chicago educators; some commenters have pushed back.
BuzzFeed found 15 Chicago students who are happy to have a day off.
Andrew Rotherham at TIME says that negotiations ought to be made public.
The Chicago Tribune has continuing coverage of the strike, including updates on the teachers' rally and march through Chicago.
UPDATE: As negotiations failed to advance through Monday, the strike will continue on Tuesday.