Chicago teachers strike hits ninth day as union, district bargain

Chicago teachers strike hits ninth day as union, district bargain
By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The 300,000 students of Chicago’s public schools went a ninth day without classes on Tuesday as district officials and striking teachers returned to the bargaining table, where they are trying to hash out the union’s demands on class size, support staff and pay.

The strike, which began on Oct. 17, is the latest in a recent wave of work stoppages across the United States by educators who have called for more resources and emphasized the need to help underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.

It is the second-longest U.S. teachers’ strike in recent memory. A teachers strike in Union City, California, in June lasted three weeks.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents 25,000 teachers in the third-largest U.S. school district, and Chicago Public Schools officials were unable to agree on contract terms after a marathon 16-hour negotiating session that ended early on Tuesday.

Hours later, both sides headed back to the bargaining table, the district’s chief education officer, LaTanya McDade, said during a news briefing.

“We have put forward a strong, comprehensive package of proposals that meet the demands of the key priorities that the union identified,” she said.

McDade said the city has proposed to spend $25 million to address overcrowding in the district and another $70 million to hire support staff, such as nurses and social workers.

The union, which has been without a contract since July 1, voted this month to go on strike if a deal was not reached.

“The union has laid out a path for a settlement … this is still an opportunity for the mayor to enter into an historic agreement,” Robert Bloch, an attorney for the union, said during a news conference earlier on Tuesday.

Teachers have picketed in front of many of the district’s 500 schools and have held several rallies in Chicago’s downtown area during the strike.

The strike is the first major test for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a political newcomer elected in April. She has said the district could not afford the union’s full demands, estimating they would cost an extra $2.4 billion each year for an increase of more than 30% in the current $7.7 billion school budget.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago,; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)

Oklahoma, Kentucky teachers walk off job over pay, shut schools

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – Oklahoma teachers walked off the job on Monday, closing schools statewide, as they became the latest U.S. educators to demand pay raises and more funding for a school system reeling from a decade of budget cuts.

The strike by some of the lowest-paid educators in the nation came the same day that Kentucky teachers dressed in red T-shirts flooded that state’s capital demanding pension security, following a similar successful wage-strike about a month ago by teachers in West Virginia.

Teachers say years of budget austerity in many states have led to the stagnation of already poor salaries.

In Oklahoma City, a band of teachers played “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” as buses of educators from across the state arrived at the Capitol. Protesters carried signs reading: “How can you put students first if you put teachers last?” ahead of a rally expected to draw thousands.

“I am disgusted with the cuts, and deeper and deeper cuts,” said Betty Gerber, a retired teacher from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled legislature last week approved the state’s first major tax increase in a quarter century to help fund pay raises for teachers, hoping to avert a strike with a $450 million revenue package.

The funding would raise by $5,000 the pay of teachers beginning their career, and provide a raise of nearly $8,000 for those with 25 years’ experience, lawmakers said.

The increase fell short of the demand from the largest teachers’ union in the state, the Oklahoma Education Association, for a $10,000 pay increase over three years for teachers and a $5,000 raise for support personnel.

According to National Education Association estimates for 2016, Oklahoma ranked 48th, followed by Mississippi at 49 and South Dakota at 50, in terms of average U.S. classroom teacher salary.

Oklahoma secondary school teachers had an annual mean wage of $42,460 as of May 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The minimum salary for a first year teacher was $31,600, state data showed.

The mean wage for teachers in every neighboring state is higher, causing many experienced teachers to leave Oklahoma, where some budget-strained districts have been forced to implement four-day school weeks.

On a state level, the inflation-adjusted general funding per student in Oklahoma dropped by 28.2 percent between 2008 and 2018, the biggest cut of any state, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Oklahoma City and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)