The Chicago Teachers Union continued its second day of the strike by celebrating in a party-like atmosphere with kids, festive music, and a giant fuzzy elmo doll. They may be anticipating a long strike: according to CTU President Karen Lewis, the idea that a contract will be settled by the end of Tuesday “is lunacy.”

I traveled downtown to view the protest. The “L” train was packed with young teachers in red t-shirts, smiling and laughing about the strike. One teacher commented that all they were doing at his high school to provide for students was “plopping in The Hunger Games” all day; another said that they were glad the schools weren’t inundated with all of the 400,000 children left in the lurch by the strike–otherwise, it might “make them look bad.”

The protest snaked from Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago around the “loop” area. Teachers wearing red union shirts filled the streets, many with young children grasping their own pro-strike signs.

I took video footage of the protest, where you’ll hear the reaction to my questions about “merit pay”:

The Teachers Union seemed to be intent to stress that they were not striking over the 16 percent raise over four years that the Chicago Public Schools has now offered them (the union is demanding 30 percent). Nor was it about the sticking point of enforcing accountability through merit pay. Rather, according to the teachers I spoke with, it is about getting air conditioning in the 10 schools that currently are without and ensuring that there are enough social workers.

With chants like “get up, get down, Chicago is a union town,” and signs expressing solidarity, it is clear that what is really at stake is union power–and with that the ability to continue to negotiate huge pay raises. Chicago public school teachers are the highest paid in the nation. When faced with this fact, the teachers I spoke with countered that Chicago’s cost-of-living is higher than other places.

Thanks to the Illinois Policy Institute for crunching the numbers on that:

On average, the cost of living is 21 percent more in Chicago than the other cities, according toCNNMoney. After this cost of living adjustment (COLA), Chicago public school teachers are still overpaid by a whopping 31 percent! This is morally indefensible.

And for our overly generous teacher pay we get a tragic 40 percent dropout rate for children who enter a Chicago public high school.

Don’t be fooled by CTU President Karen Lewis or the angry protestors in the streets. CTU teachers don’t deserve a pay raise of even a penny. They deserve a cut of at least 30 percent.

CTU President Lewis told the crowd Tuesday that “the whole world is watching us.” They’d better hope that the rest of Illinois isn’t watching; 35 percent of the cost for the Chicago Public Schools is funded by Illinoisans outside of Chicago.


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