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GOP lawmakers: ‘Outrageous’ CTU members ‘bully’ lawmakers for more money

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(The Center Square) – Starting their Wednesday off with doughnuts and red T-shirts, members of the Chicago Teachers Union rolled their way into Springfield to demand more state taxpayer funding.

Only two of every 10 Black students can read at grade level, according to Chicago Public Schools data. During a news conference at the Illinois State Capitol, CTU members were asked if they were doing anything to improve reading and math proficiencies. They told The Center Square to ask CPS.

Republican lawmakers reacted to the CTU’s “Lobby Day.” State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said she and Senate Republicans are concerned that hundreds of teachers decided to take a taxpayer-funded day off in the middle of the week to protest instead of staying in the classroom.

“On top of that, you have substitute teachers who are being paid to fill in the positions while the teachers are gone. It’s very frustrating for us to see this kind of protest in the middle of the week when teachers should be in their classrooms teaching the students,” Rezin said.

There are 646 schools in the CPS school district and one from each school were to travel to Springfield Wednesday, which means 646 teachers were given a paid day off to lobby.

CTU members were also asked during their news conference if teachers being out of the classroom was going to cause a learning disruption. Eric Waller, a Chicago teacher, said that a lot of teachers who came to the Capitol took an unpaid day. Waller, himself, confirmed he didn’t take an unpaid day.

“If you could walk in the building with us, you could take a day and see what our kids are going through. Come into a cramped classroom. That’s what is causing the educational disruption. Yeah, we are going to take that one day and advocate for our children because they deserve it,” Waller said. “Some of us had to take a personal business day or a salary day … Now CPS gave us a release day, and that’s one person per building. Anyone else who comes down with us, they’re either taking a non-paid day or a personal business day.”

Waller told The Center Square he was given the “release day” by his delegate. The release day was given to delegates, but if the delegates weren’t able to go to Springfield, they had the authority to give the day to whoever wanted to come to Springfield.

CTU has a $50 billion list of demands for a new multi-year contract with CPS. If the union gets the contract it wants, the average teacher’s salary will jump to nearly $145,000 in the 2027-2028 school year, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. Rezin said the union is asking for a 9% increase every year.

“We all agree there’s inflation but at the end of the day we have to be cognizant about what our budget is and make sure we live within our means,” said Rezin. “We feel CPS has money that they need to reprioritize as they are negotiating their contract with their teachers.”

Throughout the day, groups of CTU members were scattered throughout the Capitol looking for lawmakers to demand more state taxpayer funding. Multiple members had printouts of lawmakers’ faces and names.

State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, said for many years, CPS has received a disproportionate share of the state’s education resources through special carve outs and unique grants. For example, CPS gets the Chicago Block Grant, a $200 million bump written into CPS’s base as part of the Evidence Based Formula.

“Very little surprises me anymore in this Capitol building. But knowing how the scales have been tipped in the Chicago Public School system’s favor with regards to funding over the years … for the mayor and his minions to try and bully lawmakers into giving more money, claiming they are being shortchanged, is absolutely outrageous,” said DeWitte.

While heading into the Capitol, Myra Johnson, sporting a red T-shirt, yelled “we need more funding for our schools!”

CTU members were asked about CPS spending $600,000 on balloon designs. The district has spent $600,593 on balloon-related vendors since 2019, according to Chalkboard News, a K-12 news site published by Franklin News Foundation, also publisher of The Center Square. Vicki Kurzydlo, a Chicago teacher, said CTU doesn’t have any control over what CPS does with its funding in regards to balloons.

“The real question today is: let’s fund our schools. That’s the question,” said Kurzydlo.

CPS-purchased balloon displays were used to mark occasions like back-to-school, graduation or Black History Month, according to Chalkboard News.

State contributions to CPS have increased 14% since 2019. Also since 2019, there has been an 11% decline in enrollment in the district, according to DeWitte.

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