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home : news : state news free December 12, 2019

10/29/2019 10:40:00 AM
Chicago strike: No deal, classes out for 9th day

CHICAGO (AP) — Representatives for Chicago teachers and the nation’s third-largest school district said early Tuesday that they had failed to reach a settlement to end a strike that has canceled classes for nine days.

Talks were set to resume Tuesday, hours after a 16-hour bargaining session that began Monday morning wrapped up without a tentative agreement.

City officials said they were frustrated to end the day without a resolution to the strike but were encouraged by some progress on teachers’ key demands for smaller class sizes and additional staffing in schools.

A sticking point is teachers’ demand for paid preparation time before classes begin, said LaTanya McDade, chief education officer for the district.

Both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and district CEO Janice Jackson have said they will not consider shortening the amount of instructional time that students get each day.

A representative for striking Chicago teachers expressed hope following late-night bargaining talks and said the Chicago Teachers Union “has laid out a path for a settlement” that could reopen classrooms.

General Counsel Robert Bloch said early today that the union representing 25,000 teachers is awaiting the city’s response. He says the parties have narrowed their differences, “but we’re not there yet.”

Classes remained canceled today for more than 300,000 students as the strike that began Oct. 17 entered its ninth school day. The walkout has surpassed the length of a 2012 teachers’ strike.

The district has reached a tentative agreement with a separate union representing thousands of school support staff.

Chicago Teachers Union representatives are also asking lawmakers for legislation that would force Chicago Public Schools to direct more of its state funding to services aimed at low-income students, English language learners and students with special needs.

Kurt Hilgendorf, a lobbyist for the union, told a legislative committee Monday Illinois’ new Evidence Based Funding formula is designed, in part, to direct more state resources to the neediest districts. But, he said, there is no requirement that districts — Chicago Public Schools in particular — direct resources to the neediest schools in those districts.

“There is no equity provision for funding CPS students in a student-based budgeting model,” he told an elementary and secondary education appropriations panel. “Each student is assigned a base funding regardless of the need of that student.”

House Bill 3917 would require that the funds CPS receives for those high-needs students be distributed among all the schools in the district in proportion to the number of high-needs students they serve. It would apply to only the Chicago district.

The Evidence Based Funding formula was adopted in 2017. Its purpose is to determine what an “adequate” level of funding would be for each district based on its size and demographic factors, such as the number of students living in poverty, the number of English language learners and the number who receive special education services.

When all state, local and federal funds are added up, CPS is currently funded at about 65 percent of adequacy.

Among other key demands are smaller class sizes and more social workers and school librarians, particularly in buildings with large concentrations of high-needs students.

In an interview after the committee hearing, Hilgendorf said the legislation is aimed at the same goals at the heart of the contract talks.

“I think these things are one and the same,” he said. “The contract talks have been about making sure that there’s appropriate amounts of staffing for social workers, school nurses, case managers for special education students, and trying to make sure that the state, which has said all those things are vital to having a high-functioning school system … should be part of the contract talks.”

The school district, however, opposes the bill, arguing it would greatly restrict how CPS spends more than $1.1 billion out of the $1.7 billion it receives through the formula.

“By passing (House Bill) 3917, we’ll be restricting close to two-thirds of the district’s allocation and will force CPS to cut back funding for its most basic areas of investment,” G. Tito Quiñones, a lobbyist for CPS, told lawmakers. “This will have a substantially detrimental impact on students’ outcomes.”

In particular, he said, it would harm schools in certain Chicago neighborhoods where enrollment is declining due to rapidly rising housing costs that make those areas unaffordable for families with children. He said CPS has been trying to maintain funding for those districts so the families that do remain can still receive a full range of services.

Republicans on the panel, including Rep. Avery Bourne, of Raymond, also expressed skepticism. She argued it was never the intent of Evidence Based Funding to take away the local control that individual school districts have over their budgets.

“It wasn’t meant to be a list of unfunded mandates,” she said. “That was very clear in many, many discussions and that’s something that we on the Republican side of the aisle were very adamant about.”

During a news conference Monday morning, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, of Chicago, said he thinks the strike has already lasted too long, but he gave no indication he would use the weight of his office in an effort to mediate a solution.

“There is a fair bargaining process that is going on now,” he said. “We’ve seen it back and forth. I think it’s actually been fairly transparent. They seem to be down to just a few issues, so I’m very hopeful that they’ll be able to work it out.”

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