The Chicago Teachers Union issued a searing critique Thursday of Chicago school spending and policies, calling for $713 million in improvements — including full-day kindergarten and lowering class sizes from a maximum of 28 students to 20 for younger kids.
It also suggested $796 million in sources of new revenue, including the use of $159 million in unallocated tax-increment-financing funds and new “taxes on the wealthy,” including a capital gains tax and a 6-cent “financial transaction tax.”
“For too long, our students have been shortchanged, their teachers have been undermined, and their schools have been financially starved of the resources they need,” said Karen Lewis, president of the teachers union.
The union put out the report as it’s locked in negotiations over a teachers contract that expires June 30 and as the city schools move ahead with plans to extend the school day to 7 1/2 hours systemwide and to tack 10 days onto the school year next fall.
Leaders of the cash-strapped district haven’t said how much the longer school day and school year will cost or how they will pay that expense.
In response to the union report, CPS officials stood behind their longer-day push as the answer to what ails CPS.
“We are united with our teachers to use resources in the most effective way to allow students to be successful in the classroom,” a CPS spokeswoman said in an email. “That’s why we are implementing a full school day next year to provide both teachers and students with the tools they need to provide more robust learning around core subjects like math, reading and science.”
The bulk of the teachers union’s suggestions regard hiring more teachers, which, in turn, would boost CTU membership and bolster its dues-based coffers at a time when teachers unions across the nation have become a frequent scapegoat for politicians.
The CTU report said the Chicago’s average kindergarten class size of 24.6 students is higher than what’s found in 95 percent of school districts statewide and that, through third grade, class sizes are the 12th-highest in Illinois.
The union called that a “tremendous disservice to young students,” citing research indicating lower class size is particularly beneficial in the early school years and among low-income students and students of color.
Lowering class sizes in kindergarten through third grade from 28 to 20 would cost $170 million — which the union said would amount to about half of the budget this year for the city’s Office of New Schools, which supports the creation of charter schools and “turnaround” schools supported by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard.
Lewis hailed the report, which features eight pages of footnotes, as an effort to “redirect attention to what works,” based on research. The system’s penchant for closing and “turning around” schools has “no basis in research or evidence,” she said.
The union’s other recommendations include spending:
◆ $75 million on full-day kindergarten;
◆ $200 million to ensure that every school offered a “well-rounded” curriculum including of at least two periods a day of enrichment offerings ranging from fine arts to physical education,
◆ $268 million to add nearly 2,600 counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists.
◆ $10 million on free bus cards for low-income students, based on a Wells High School bus-card initiative that boosted attendance.
To pay for such things, the union suggested tapping $159 million of $831 million in unallocated TIF funds; ending “corporate subsidies,” instituting a 6-cent tax on transactions in the financial markets and creating a “progressive capital gains tax to target the higher earners.”
The report accuses CPS of “racist probationary policies” and using standardized testing to create an “apartheid” system. Schools on probation for low test scores are populated by local school councils with diminished powers and little control over their curriculum, while higher-scoring schools are given academic freedom under the Autonomous Management and Performance Schools (AMPS) system, the paper said. Only 18 percent of AMPS students are African American, although they represent 43 percent of the system; while 19 percent of AMPS students are white, although they constitute only 8.5 percent of the district, the paper said.
“By implementing these taxes on the wealthy, we can reign in reckless speculation, encourage longer-term productive investment and decrease income inequality while bringing needed revenue to services for children and working families,” the paper contended.
The paper noted that nearly 70 percent of the system’s African American students attend schools that are “intensely segregated’’ — or at least 90 percent black.
Asked about the paper’s contention that CPS was operating an “apartheid” system, Lewis referred to a recent study by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and said, “I didn’t make Chicago the most segregated city in the U.S. … It is what it is.’’