CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago teachers took to picket lines Friday in a one-day strike they say is aimed at getting lawmakers to adequately fund education and other programs in the nation’s third-largest district.
The walkout has closed schools for nearly 400,000 students, who have the option of spending the day at one of the more than 250 “contingency sites” Chicago Public Schools has opened at churches, libraries and school buildings.
Among those picketing outside the Oscar DePriest Elementary School was special education teacher Brian Orlinsky, who said he hopes the walkout will be a wake-up call for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and other lawmakers.
“There’s not enough textbooks,” the Spencer Technology Elementary School teacher said. “There’s not enough technology that’s up to date and that’s working.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten rallied too, calling cuts to funding a “reckless disregard of children.”
Friday’s actions also could foreshadow a longer strike over a new labor contract, which by law can’t occur for several weeks.
The Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike in 2012, shutting down schools for more than a week before reaching an agreement with Emanuel. That contract expired in June, and the negotiations for a new one have been going on for more than a year.
“We are dying a death of a thousand cuts,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told striking teachers Friday morning. “We’re all feeling it.”
CPS, which faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit and billions more in pension debt, already has halted salary increases, ordered teachers to take three furlough days and imposed other cuts to schools. It reached an agreement earlier this year with union leadership on a proposal that included salary increases. But a larger union bargaining team rejected it, partly because it required employees to contribute more toward their pensions and health insurance.
The union and its allies say the only way to get a fair contract and improve struggling schools is to pressure lawmakers to approve new revenue, either through a tax increase or other changes.
Illinois is about to enter its 10th month without a state budget. The state’s ongoing financial problems have led to severe cuts to social services and education.
Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, who calls the action a “wildcat strike,” said CPS and the mayor’s office share the union’s urgency for elected officials to resolve the funding issue. But he said the walkout isn’t the answer because it punishes parents and takes a day of instruction away from students.
He urged lawmakers to find a solution.
“We need to make it clear that it’s time to end the gamesmanship,” Claypool said. “When adults play politics, students suffer.”
Teachers participating in Friday’s action won’t be paid for the day and CPS expects to take legal action against the union, Claypool said. The union says the strike is allowed.
The one-day walkout will culminate with a rush-hour gathering and march in downtown Chicago, where the union plans to close streets and disrupt traffic.
AP reporter Jason Keyser contributed to this report.