Our View: Education monopoly grinds to halt in Chicago
Public employee unions throughout the country have been running into more frequent efforts to reform the contracts they've negotiated, as awareness grows of the strain on public finances caused by union compensation, perks, health benefits and pension obligations. Even the most union-friendly jurisdictions have not been immune from the need for reforms, as evidenced by voters in San Jose and San Diego approving pension reform ballot measure in June and New York's success in limiting automatic tenure for public teachers.
Monday, another of America's most union-friendly cities, Chicago found itself locked in a struggle with its public school teachers, who walked out over contract negotiations, the first teachers strike in the Windy City since 1987.
Some 30,000 teachers and staff joined the first day of the strike, led by the Chicago Teachers Union, rather than accept a 16 percent pay raise over four years. That offer was made despite the school district facing a projected $3 billion budget deficit over three years, which does not include unfunded pension liabilities. The teachers had demanded a 30 percent pay increase.
At the Democratic National Convention last week, former President Bill Clinton praised Chicago as a city leading the nation in reform. (The second city Clinton cited was Los Angeles, which, as former LA Mayor Richard Riordan has noted, may face bankruptcy by 2014 if unfunded pension liabilities for city workers aren't addressed.)
Chicago teachers walked out over differences on health benefits, among other things, but the biggest point of contention is a proposed teacher evaluation process that relies on student test scores as a metric of teacher effectiveness. "Evaluate us on what we do, not the lives of our children we do not control," union president Karen Lewis said. She is essentially placing the blame on low test scores on the home lives of students.
While Lewis makes a valid point, she also unwittingly makes one of our points: More money for teachers has no effect on classroom outcomes.
Caught in the middle of this struggle over money and control are Chicago's nearly 400,000 students, a large percentage of whom live in poverty, in the more dangerous areas of the city. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel characterized the strike as "unnecessary, avoidable and wrong." He is right.
"This is what happens when government has a monopoly on education, and unions gain control of that monopoly," said Jeff Reed of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
"It's very telling that Chicago's charter and private schools of choice, in which educators are free to teach and appropriately respond to the needs of their customers, are operating and serving children," he said. "Unions care about their members; parents care about their children. We should put power over kids' educations back in the hands of their parents."
Consequences of union contracts are becoming more evident almost daily. And taxpayers are growing wary of paying premium money for poor performance. Students and taxpayers deserve more from public school teachers and their union representation than strikes.