Katie Pavlich
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For the first time in 25 years, hundreds of Chicago students are at home today and not in school because 26,000 unionized teachers in the country's third largest school district went on strike late last night after demands for a 19 percent pay increase were not met. While they strike today, 23 million Americans won't have the opportunity to go to work as the nation's unemployment still sits above 8 percent. Recent college graduates who can't find a job in this economy, will also be sitting at home while teachers protest on the picket lines.

"We will walk the picket lines, we will talk to parents, we ... will demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now," she said, calling the ordeal an "education justice fight."

 

So what happened? Emanuel dared to ask teachers be more closely evaluated.

Emanuel campaigned on the promise of making Chicago's schools better, promising -- and later, trying to enact -- policies in line with a nationwide, Obama-supported movement known as education reform. Emanuel wanted principals to have more autonomy over hiring; he wanted teachers to be evaluated more stringently; he wanted to encourage the growth of charter schools; but, above all, he wanted Chicago to have a longer school day. So he trotted out research and Stand's talking points showing that Chicago's schools have the shortest days in the nation, and sought to implement the teacher-evaluation law -- which contained a special provision that allowed him to lengthen the school day.

But when trying to negotiate the specifics of that extension with the union, trouble arose. Emanuel tried to circumvent the union by asking individual schools' teachers to vote to waive the contract and make the school day longer, but stopped once CTU took complaints about the process to the the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. While Emanuel sought to add school hours, the city also couldn't afford to pay an amount the union sought for the extra time required of teachers. But a deal reached in late July gave both sides what they wanted: students would see a 20 percent longer school day -- seven hours for elementary students and 7.5 hours for high schoolers -- and current teacher hours would largely be unaffected. To fill the gaps, CPS planned to hire back 477 tenured teachers who were laid off over the last three years, at an annual cost of $40-$50 million. It was just one of many flashpoints Emanuel, a Democrat, had with the union.

According to CBS News correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, Chicago teachers on average already make more than $76,000 per year and that doesn't even count benefits.

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Illinois already pays out massive amounts of money for teacher pensions in the state. The Illinois Policy Institute has the numbers:

Governor Quinn is finally talking the talk on the severity of Illinois’ pension crisis. “Based on current projections” Quinn said earlier this week, “by 2016 the state will spend more on pension contributions than education funding.”

Quinn is right. He acknowledges that pensions are eating into the education funding for our kids.  

The Illinois Policy Institute spotlighted the urgency of this issue three months ago in its report Playing Favorites. The results show that contributions to the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), dedicated to suburban and downstate teachers, are on target to become the single largest education expenditure within the next five years. That’s because growth in teacher retiree costs are outpacing General State Aid for non-Chicago schools.

Money meant for the classrooms is now going to pay the retirement benefits for teachers. Just over the past five years, 71 cents from every new dollar set aside by state government for PK-12 education went to teacher retirement costs. The crisis is already here.

Emanuel has set up emergency child care centers for parents today (which is costing taxpayers even more money).

Due to the Chicago Teachers Union Leadership's choice to strike, Chicago Public Schools is opening 144 Children First sites on Monday, September 10.  If you have no alternative options for childcare, visit here to sign up your child, or call 311.

CPS is committed to staying at the negotiating table with the CTU — every day if needed — to ensure our students stay in the classroom and continue to take advantage of more time with their teachers with the Full School Day. 

We are strongly encouraging all parents to first explore other options for their children. We know that a strike will put a strain on many families, and no one will be hurt more by a strike than our students.

For families that are not able to access alternative options for their children, the "Children First" plan is a safety net to provide a safe environment, food, and engaging activities.

The good news is Emanuel has at least said he is "disappointed" with the strike and that it is "unnecessary," but we'll see if he actually has the nerve to fire them all "for the kids."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the strike called by the Chicago Teachers Union is "unnecessary" and unfair to the city's school children.

The mayor spoke shortly after union President Karen Lewis announced that the city's 25,000 public school teachers would walk the picket line Monday morning after talks with the school board broke down Sunday night.

Emanuel says the two sides disagreed mainly over two issues that could quickly be finished if the negotiations continued, and that the district's team was ready to start talks again at any time. He said the district had offered the teachers at 16 percent pay raise over four years.

Emanuel clearly has a situation to deal with. Maybe he should make a phone call to Scott Walker next door in Wisconsin or across the country to Chris Christie in New Jersey for some helpful and effective advice.

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Katie Pavlich

Katie Pavlich is the News Editor at Townhall.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiepavlich. She is also the author of Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and the Shameless Cover-Up.

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Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography