School resumed in the Windy City after the holiday break Monday, Jan. 3, but that lasted only two days before a standoff between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) closed the classrooms Wednesday, Jan. 5. Students are finally back in school today – but will it last? The agreement between the union and district still needs approval by a member vote. Pending the final count, kids are back in class. Will teachers opt to keep them there?
The agreement they got wasn’t the one they wanted. CTU teachers had hoped to start virtual learning today and returned to in-person class on Jan. 18 if the state and the city health department thought it was safe. That didn’t fly with CPS or the mayor, and by Monday, Jan. 10, it seemed no agreement would be reached. Mayor Lori Lightfoot had accused union teachers of an illegal walkout, essentially calling them criminals, and the union president had called her “relentlessly stupid.”
But by the end of the day, a deal had been reached and the union leadership signed off on it. CPS staff returned to work Tuesday, Jan. 11, with in-person classes resuming today, Jan. 12. The trade-off is that if more than 25% of the staff or students test positive for COVID-19, the school can return to virtual learning.
They also agreed to enhanced testing, contact tracing, and daily screening questions. CPS bought KN95 masks for students and staff and promised to try to persuade more families to give testing consent. Teachers will also be allowed to take unpaid leave either for their own illness or to avoid it should they feel there’s an increased risk. The governor also sent an additional 350,000 tests to the district, and more incentives have been offered to increase the number of substitute teachers.
Chicago Gets an F
According to the CPS website, the district includes 636 individual schools with a combined total of 340,658 students when the school year began. On the day the union held its vote – Jan. 4 – the school system alone reported 422 new COVID-19 cases in students and 271 in the staff. As of Jan. 7, the city had seen a 16% increase in daily cases over the previous week, averaging 5,200 new cases a day, according to the health department’s COVID-19 tracker. With a population of just over 2.7 million, that’s an average of 0.19% of the city getting sick each day vs 0.12% of the student body. So, at the very least, the school isn’t doing any worse than the city in general – and not really much better, either.
The FY2021 budget for CPS included more than $4 billion for “school-level funding” and another $758 million in “capital projects that will help ensure students throughout the city have access to modern, safe school buildings for years to come.” The proposed 2022 budget comes in at $9.3 billion in total. To make matters worse, according to the Illinois Board of Education, $2.79 billion in federal coronavirus funding intended to help schools reopen was set aside for CPS.
That’s a lot of money down the drain with more to come. After a week of missed class – and missed work by parents – kids are finally back in school. For now. Should the member vote fail to pass, classes will presumably be canceled once again, and the whole process will start again. No matter how much fault lies on either side, the result has been the complete failure of the city’s public school system and the waste of billions of dollars in the process. If the Windy City were to be graded for government efficiency, it would get a solid F.
~ Read more from James Fite.