Hundreds Take to the Streets Over Chicago Board of Education’s Decision to Further Slash CPS Funding

Crystal Stella Becerril July 29, 2015

A student protests at last week's rally outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters. (Michelle Gunderson / Twitter)

We need teach­ers! We need books! We need the mon­ey that the banks took!” chant­ed a group of pro­test­ers out­side of Chica­go Pub­lic Schools (CPS) head­quar­ters July 22. The crowd was protest­ing the Board of Edu­ca­tion’s recent deci­sion to slash fund­ing to Chica­go schools by $200 mil­lion while pay­ing mas­sive amounts of debt to banks like Bank of Amer­i­ca. This lat­est round of cuts includes cut­ting 1,400 posi­tions — 200 of which serve spe­cial needs stu­dents in the city.

In less than an hour, the crowd of about 200 peo­ple — most of them mem­bers of the Chica­go Teach­ers Union (CTU) — had grown to over 500. Among them were teach­ers, par­ents and mem­bers of com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions like Com­mu­ni­ties Unit­ed, Brighton Park Neigh­bor­hood Coun­cil (BPNC), the par­ent group Bad Ass Moms (BAMs) and Fight for $15, all of whom reject­ed the cuts and accused the Board of Ed of being broke on purpose.”

CPS is telling Chica­go stu­dents and teach­ers that there is no mon­ey, but we see fund­ing being shift­ed to char­ter schools and banks,” said Rouse­mary Vega, a CPS par­ent, edu­ca­tion jus­tice activist and found­ing mem­ber of Bad Ass Moms. CPS just spent 10 mil­lion dol­lars on new fur­ni­ture! How can you say you don’t have mon­ey for our schools but you have 10 mil­lion for new fur­ni­ture? Now thats being broke on purpose’!”

Com­mu­ni­ty and par­ent groups were also there to protest what they say is an expan­sion of char­ter schools in the city that comes at the expense of pub­lic schools. The BPNC and stu­dents and teach­ers from Kennedy High School were there to protest plans for two new Nobel Char­ter School cam­pus­es to be built blocks from Kel­ly High School, which has lost an esti­mat­ed $6 mil­lion over the last five years and had cuts to their acclaimed band pro­gram, now almost exclu­sive­ly fund­ed through pri­vate dona­tions. Par­ents say they don’t under­stand how the Board of Edu­ca­tion can con­tin­u­ous­ly find mon­ey to open new char­ter schools, but can’t prop­er­ly fund exist­ing pub­lic schools.

Across the street, a char­ter school counter-protest held a press con­fer­ence. With around 40 sup­port­ers in atten­dance, those gath­ered said they want­ed choic­es for their stu­dents beyond pub­lic schools.

Chris Baehrend, the Vice Pres­i­dent of the Chica­go Alliance of Char­ter Teach­ers and Staff (Chi­ACTS), which rep­re­sents teach­ers and staff in over 150 char­ter schools across Chica­go, dis­agrees. Chi­ACTS and CTU, we both want the same thing: We want all stu­dents to get a great edu­ca­tion. We want all teach­ers to have a voice.”

Baehrend, who is an Eng­lish teacher at Lati­no Youth Char­ter High School, joined the CTU pick­et in sol­i­dar­i­ty with pub­lic school edu­ca­tors and stu­dents. Even though I teach at a char­ter school, it’s not in my inter­est for char­ters to pro­lif­er­ate,” he says. I’m crit­i­cal of the char­ter school mod­el because [pub­lic] schools are not the prob­lem — it’s this mod­el of pri­va­ti­za­tion that is.” The move­ment to union­ize char­ter schools in Chica­go and across the coun­try has grown in recent years.

CTU Vice Pres­i­dent Jesse Sharkey, who was seen rolling up to the protest on a bicy­cle through the city’s Divvy rideshare pro­gram while wear­ing a suit and tie, told reporters, If there’s no new rev­enue, our schools are going to go bank­rupt. It’s not a sus­tain­able mod­el.” He added that CPS has already made $2 mil­lion worth of cuts in the last month — cuts which he says will dec­i­mate con­di­tions for stu­dents. We’re talk­ing about elim­i­nat­ing ele­men­tary school sports. We’re talk­ing about tak­ing the aides who help spe­cial edu­ca­tion stu­dents get on the bus and elim­i­nat­ing them. These are going to be deves­tat­ing cuts.”

As City Hall begins to roll out a new wave of aus­ter­i­ty, pro­gres­sive forces like the CTU are argu­ing that this is not a bud­get cri­sis” in which Chica­go is respon­si­ble for too many social ser­vices and pub­lic sec­tor jobs, as the City claims it is, but rather a rev­enue cri­sis which the State has cre­at­ed. Sharkey added that there has to be more rev­enue; the peo­ple who have the most wealth in our soci­ety have to pay more. If they don’t do that, we’re going to can­ni­bal­ize and ulti­mate­ly shut down pub­lic schools.”

CPS has been try­ing (and fail­ing) to smooth out its image as act­ing on behalf of the City’s cor­po­rate elite for years, but teach­ers, par­ents and edu­ca­tion jus­tice activists say the aren’t buy­ing it.

We know they’re mis­man­ag­ing mon­ey,” says Tam­mie Vin­son, who is a spe­cial edu­ca­tion kinder­gar­den teacher at Oscar DePriest Ele­men­tary and a for­mer alder­man­ic can­di­date for the 28th ward. Pub­lic schools are a right and we have to keep protest­ing and agi­tat­ing to let those ben­e­fit­ing from our loss­es know that they can’t keep ignor­ing our inequities.”

In light of the lat­est round of bud­get cuts and lay­offs, CTU has called for a series of protests and actions over the last two weeks in an effort to raise aware­ness of what they say are May­or Emanuel and his appoint­ed Board of Ed’s plans to cre­ate crises in order to push privatization.

The gov­er­nor is impos­ing a cri­sis on this state and the pres­sure, the stress is going to break the chain at its weak­est link. And the weak­est link is the pub­lic schools in Chica­go,” said Sharkey. What you’re see­ing now is an out­pour­ing of frus­tra­tion among our front-end edu­ca­tors in this city, who are say­ing, There has to be a polit­i­cal solu­tion. There has to be rev­enue.’ Expect more protests. Don’t expect us to be qui­et. We’re going to demand that the politi­cians of this state do the right thing.”

Crys­tal Stel­la Becer­ril is a Chica­go-based Xicana activist, writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er. She is cur­rent­ly a con­tribut­ing writer for Social­ist Work­er, Red Wedge Mag­a­zine and Warscapes, where she writes about edu­ca­tion jus­tice, race, fem­i­nism and culture.
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