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In These Times: Karen Lewis Has Already Redefined Chicago Politics

by BY JAMES THINDWA - in these times  |  October 21, 2014

The news that Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis will not run for mayor of Chicago due to illness is heartbreaking.

Speaking as a colleague, comrade and friend, I can say with certainty that Karen Lewis is one of most brilliant and committed labor leaders today. Underneath her down-to-earth demeanor are nerves of steel.

After she took office, I attended several debates between Lewis and Etoy Ridgnal, then a local director of Stand for Children, a corporate-backed booster for school privatization. The Chicago Urban League debate was particularly instructive. After Lewis schooled her opponent about the relationship between race, poverty and education—the “opportunity gap”—an African American woman, in apparent awe of Lewis, asked me why no one had explained the connection “like she just did.” She wondered out loud why other union leaders had “allowed them to blame the teachers.”

At one point, Lewis interrogated Ridgnal about the rightwing billionaires who fund Stand for Children—like the Walton Family Foundation, started by Walmart’s founders. As Ridgnal, seemingly flummoxed, processed the question, Lewis, with visible contempt, questioned how “these rich white people can pretend to love our children more than we do.” I recall that moment because Lewis’ emotion touched me, and the audience went wild.

But she wasn’t done. Lewis dared Ridgnal to reconcile her funders’ newfound sensitivity to the needs of black children with business practices and actions—Walmart’s low wages and right-wing politics—that marginalize black workers and impoverish their neighborhoods. The debate was effectively over.

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Catalyst Chicago: As CPS irons out school budgets, charters will also get more cash

by Sarah Karp - Catalyst Chicago  |  October 17, 2014

CPS is increasing the per-pupil funding provided to charter schools for this year in order to “equalize” funding between them and traditional schools.

Charter school operators say that even with the slight increase, some of them are down so many students that they have had to shift spending around to create a balanced budget.

CPS will spend an additional $7.8 million on charter schools, but spokesman Bill McCaffrey says he is not sure how much more per-pupil that amounts to. 

Please click here to continue reading at Catalyst Chicago.

Forum: Greed vs. Need

by ctu communications  |  October 15, 2014

ILLUSTRATION: This is the Fight! forum

CTU President Karen Lewis acknowledges expressions of support offered during her leave

by karen lewis - ctu president  |  October 15, 2014

“My husband, John, and I wish to thank each and every one you for your outpouring of support, thoughts, prayers and well wishes over the last few days,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. “Your expressions have given me a sense of renewed energy as I shift my focus to restoring my health. It has been said, that our city is one of big shoulders. I cannot agree more; today those shoulders have become the compassionate arms from brothers and sisters from all walks of life. I want to personally thank you for respecting my privacy during this difficult time. While I’m in this fight, please know I’ll continue to stand for the city we love and deserve; and look forward to joining you again on the battlefield.”

ILLUSTRATION: Karen in front of crowd

Chicago Teachers Union Response to Mayor’s Budget Address

by ctu communications  |  October 15, 2014

CHICAGO—Today, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) released the following statement in response to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Budget Address:

“At the end of today’s city budget address, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed with a comment touting downtown business growth. His perspective is particularly apropos: in a city where the top 5 percent of earners make 25 percent of the income and unemployment in some parts of the south and west sides nears 50 percent, three-quarters of those downtown jobs have gone to people outside of the city,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

“A budget for everyone would address these realities, but this budget continues a top-down imposition of two distinct cities, one for the privileged and one for everyone else. Similar to other Emanuel budgets, “balance” comes through savage cuts to public service and accounting trickery, as there is only minimal revenue generation in this budget, and what is included, like taxes on car leases and increased cell phone taxes, are incredibly regressive. The mayor’s proposals on crime, education, and the minimum wage make this two-tiered system clear.”

Overall statistical declines mask the intensity in which Chicagoans’ experience with crime differs, Sharkey noted. The reality on the ground is that neighborhoods on the South and West sides of the city continue to struggle with daily violence. Budgetary allocations for police only cover positions lost to retirement and are nowhere near what the mayor promised during this first campaign.

Emanuel continues to support the failed policy of mandatory minimums as a solution to gun crime; such an approach only drives up the cost of incarceration, does not deter shootings, and absent sufficient support for re-entry, those with felony records have little opportunity for employment. Those incarceration costs are merely shifted to other tax payers, allowing the Mayor to take all the credit without paying any of the expense.

Furthermore, the mayor’s decision to shutter mental health clinics continues to shift costs to the county jail and county hospital while increasing risks to all Chicagoans. Last week’s blue line shooter had a history of untreated mental illness. A budget that worked for all Chicagoans would restore funding for mental health clinics, provide resources for real community policing, and would support comprehensive re-entry programs for parolees.


On education, Mayor Emanuel takes credit for policies that he did not start and hides the savage cuts he’s pushed. Graduation rates were already increasing prior to his election, and the real credit must go to the school staffs who daily work with students. These same school staffs have seen savage cuts to their budgets over the past three years, including hundreds of lost positions for the longer school day the mayor demanded. Students across the city are going without art, music, world language, and PE because of those cuts. Dozens of librarians have been shifted into teaching positions, so libraries go unused because of inadequate staffing.

These library cuts come on top of slashed Chicago Public Library hours. Furthermore, while the Emanuel touted After School Matters, elementary school after-school programs have been slashed across the city. For instance, Gale Elementary School suffered $1 million in budget cuts (the same as the expansion of ASM), eliminated all after school programs, and has to raise money for books. Also omitted from this budget address was the impact of the 50 school closures the Mayor rammed through that have not resulted in major financial savings but have negatively impacted the students and families forced to change schools (again, mainly on the South and West sides).

Finally, the so-called “universal” expansion of pre-K is much less than advertised. The mayor’s proposal only covers four-year olds (instead of three-year olds as well), is free only for the lowest-income families, varies widely in quality depending on whether in a CPS program with highly-trained and certified teachers or in a private day care with less qualified workers, and is funded with a complex scheme that rewards Goldman Sachs with additional profits on top of the millions from toxic swaps the economy-crashing bank has already received. The Mayor’s education policies have never deviated from a failed corporate reform model and have outraged parents across the city.


On the minimum wage, Sharkey noted, the Mayor’s proposal also shows the two-tiered nature of his overall approach to governance. There are no protections for tipped workers or domestic workers, two of the largest categories of minimum wage earners in the city, and these are often the Black and Latino workers who have been left out of the downtown boom. Worse, despite claims of eliminating the need for choosing food or medical care, the Mayor’s minimum wage proposal leaves low-wage families in poverty. The ordinance would only be above the poverty line by 2018, and by 2019, by the time the full $13 kicks in; low-wage workers would be 9 cents over that line. The economic impact of the Mayor’s proposal is half of the competing $15 ordinance. Chicago needs the $15/hour wage ordinance, and it needs that ordinance now.

“The CTU remains committed to policies that have real impact, including revenue-generating plans like the LaSalle Street Tax and TIF reforms that create real, fair investment streams rather than more of the same warmed-over conventional wisdom. We support the $15 minimum wage, the privatization, transparency and accountability ordinance, restoration of cuts to social services, and real funding for retirement security. These proposals are possible when we survey the entire city, not just those who can be seen from the fifth floor,” said Sharkey.

Crain's: Meet Emanuel's new foe at the teachers union

by grez hinz - crain's chicago business  |  October 15, 2014

Expect a change in tone and style but not in direction from Jesse Sharkey, newly named acting president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

The union's vice president and No. 2 leader is filling in for President Karen Lewis while she recovers from surgery and upcoming chemotherapy for a cancerous brain tumor, which also took her out of the running for mayor.

From the bargaining table to the picket line, he's been at her side as a strategic adviser, internal troubleshooter and the policy wonk behind her free-wheeling, sharp-tongued commentary.

“She often jokingly calls me her work husband,” said Mr. Sharkey, a native of rural Maine who lives in Rogers Park with his wife and two children, who attend Chicago public elementary schools. “I stand behind her in a suit and crack up at her jokes, (allowing) her to be expressive and talk in classic Karen style.”

Ms. Lewis, 61, and Mr. Sharkey, 44, have been close allies from the beginning when they organized a slate of rank-and-file teachers in 2009 to replace the union's longtime leadership, promising a more vigorous pushback against charter schools and other reforms coming out of City Hall. She was a chemistry teacher at Martin Luther King College Prep, and he was a social studies teacher at Senn High School.

He takes the helm at a time when contract negotiations are starting soon and expected to come to a head next year, along with a mayoral election in February in which the union is still likely to do all it can to topple Mayor Rahm Emanuel. There's also the fight for an elected school board and against pension cutbacks.

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Cards, letters and flowers for Karen

by ctu communication  |  October 14, 2014

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis is recovering well from last week's surgery and appreciates the outpouring of love and support from across the world. If you wish to send a card, letter, flowers or other get well greetings, please send them to the Chicago Teachers Union office.

Chicago Teachers Union
Cards for Karen c/o Audrey May
222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, #400
Chicago, IL 60654 

ILLUSTRATION: Karen in front of crowd

New Study Shows Chicago Charter Schools Underperform Traditional Counterparts

by Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity  |  October 14, 2014

OCTOBER 13, 2014—A new study by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (IMO) at the University of Minnesota Law School showed that charter schools in Chicago underperform comparable traditional public schools and are more highly segregated by race. The analysis used comprehensive data for Chicago schools in 2012-13 and controlled for the mix of students and other challenges faced by individual schools. The findings, consistent with previous IMO evaluations of charter schools in the Twin Cities using similar data and methods, showed that:

  • Reading and math pass rates in Chicago charters lagged behind those in traditional public schools by up to four percent. Reading and math growth rates in charters trailed traditional schools by roughly four percent. Charter school graduation rates lagged by even greater amounts. There were, for the most part, no statistically significant differences between charter and traditional schools in ACT test scores. The findings actually understate the performance gap. Because students self-select into the charter system, student performance should exceed what one sees in traditional schools, even if charters do no better at teaching their students.
  • Charters are much less likely to be racially or ethnically diverse. Only 7 percent of charters showed some degree of ethnic diversity—in the form of schools with mixed black and Latino student populations—compared to about 20 percent of traditional schools that showed either racial or ethnic diversity.
  • After controlling for school characteristics, Chicago School District selective schools and schools for gifted students outperform charter and traditional schools on most measures, while magnet school students perform much like their traditional school counterparts. All three school types are more likely to be racially diverse than charter and traditional schools. 

Please click here to continue reading at and here to download a copy of the report. 

Chicago Teachers Union Statement, Medical Update on President Karen Lewis

by ctu communications  |  October 09, 2014

CHICAGO—Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis underwent successful surgery yesterday for a serious illness and is recovering well.

During President Lewis’ recovery, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey will assume the duties of the president according to the rules set forth in the CTU Constitution and By-laws.

“Out of respect to President Lewis’ wishes, the wishes of her family, and their privacy, we cannot provide details on her condition, but we wish her all the best and pledge all of our support—both in aiding her recovery and in carrying on the work of the CTU about which she cares so deeply,” Sharkey said.

ILLUSTRATION: Karen in front of crowd

Chicago Public Schools Teacher, PSRP Vacancies

by ctu communications  |  October 08, 2014

Below is a link to a Microsoft  Excel file of nearly 350 Chicago Public Schools openings. This list of positions was generated by CPS and is dated October 7, 2014.

Please note that the CTU cannot verify that the positions are still open. 
Please click on the link to access the file, and to apply for a position, contact the principal at the school of your choice.

As a displaced teacher or school staff member, you should be in the Teacher Quality Pool, which is a pool of pre-qualified teachers from which the Chicago Board of Education will do all hiring of teachers beginning in school year 2013-2014. Click here for more information on the Teacher Quality Pool.

If you have been rehired by CPS, let us know so your name can be removed from our list of displaced teachers.


Chicago Teachers Union