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Our view: Lessons from strike

The average teacher in the city of Chicago earns more than $70,000 a year in salary alone. That figure does not include benefits.

Chicago teachers work the shortest school day of the 10 largest districts in the country.

And they get among the worst results – an alarming four of 10 children who start freshman year at a public high school in Chicago do not graduate, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

Yet some 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union had the gall to walk off the job this week, deserting 400,000 students in a contract dispute over pay, benefits and their desire not to be held accountable.

We know this strike is a burden on most of these students’ parents. We know that many of these kids live in rundown, even violent neighborhoods; that teachers would walk out on these kids sickens us the most.

But the Chicago School Board must hold firm, and not cave to the union’s demands.

It should keep a new teacher evaluation system. The union has objected because it is based partly on students’ standardized test scores. If the union has a better standard for holding poor-performing teachers more accountable, present it.

Chicago Public Schools are operating at a deficit, and are almost out of reserves. Taxpayers can barely afford current compensation levels, let alone massive increases. (Though salary increases were included in the district’s offer that was rejected by the greedy union.)

If anything, the school board should rescind its last contract offer and come up with something that’s more affordable to taxpayers.

We have two other points we want to make on this subject, both involving the General Assembly.

First is about school choice. Lawmakers failed two years ago to pass landmark legislation that would have allowed parents in underperforming school districts to use a voucher to pay to send their children to a private school. A voucher program provides competition to public schools and gives parents a choice. Lawmakers should approve it this time.

Second, teachers should be treated the same as firefighters and police officers, who are barred from striking under state law. Firefighters and police officers must solve their contract disputes through arbitration, not strikes. With the ability to strike, teachers have all the leverage. School officials have very little. And students are placed in bad situations.

According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Illinois is one of nine states that explicitly permit teacher strikes through legislation. Ten states are neutral, and 31 states put restrictions on or ban teachers from striking. Illinois should join the majority.

The Chicago Teachers Union is giving us the perfect example as to why.

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