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Two decades of school policy in Chicago have erased Black teachers at a time when our students need them the most.

Black History Month has come to an end, but the Union will continue our efforts to uplift Black students, families and educators to ensure a Black future in Chicago. Over the last two decades, Chicago Public Schools has lost half of its Black teachers. The percentage has fallen from 41 percent to 21 percent—a loss of more than 5,000 Black educators—with some of the direct causes being decades of school closings, terminations in Black and Brown schools as a result of turnarounds, and annual layoffs targeting high-need schools with predominantly Black student populations and declining enrollment.

This isn’t by accident. There have been two decades of school policy in Chicago that have erased Black teachers at a time, when, due to high poverty, crime and the lack of affordable housing, our students need them the most. So we accept the challenge of not letting Black educators become Black history, and as one of our sisters stated in her own reflection on what it means to be a Black teacher: “That we keep showing up for school, family and community every day speaks to our undying hope in a future of prosperity and justice.”

Another challenge is our demand that CPS and the mayor honor the agreement they made to our veteran teachers. The mayor’s commitment to increase veteran pay helped land our contract and settle the strike. Soon after we returned to work, however, the city and CPS reneged on that part of the deal. We are confident that our most experienced educators will eventually see the increased pay they have earned, and we have filed a complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board to ensure that.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of maneuver we’ve come to expect from CPS, which is why all members need to be familiar with the rights we won during the strike, and vigilantly help the Union enforce them. Keep track of your class sizes and the number of homeless students at your school. Ensure your IEP teams know they have the right to stand up to pressure from the administration or district reps. Make sure counselors have the space and time they are owed to do their jobs, and that our five-year-olds get their naps. Yes, we had to wage an 11- day strike in order to have our youngest students nap.

Our strike also won us respect in Springfield. Both the Illinois House and Senate committed during the strike to consider an elected representative school board and the full restoration of our bargaining rights, which are critically important to our members. A large number of Illinois legislators also recognize the injustice of student-based budgeting, which has caused a death spiral at neighborhood schools on the South and West Sides. These schools are already struggling to provide basic educational programs, let alone the extra services and supports the students need, and student-based budgeting turns these challenges into a fatal blow in many cases. A bill in the legislature would require CPS to use the evidence-based funding model used by the state to provide critical new funding for schools most in need. We support this bill and will be working hard for its passage.

Over the years, our Union has increased its political strength by organizing our members, building alliances with community organizations and parents, and supporting progressive candidates for elected office who share our vision for the schools Chicago’s children deserve. CTU’s electoral strategy won huge victories in the 2018 elections, with six new progressive members of the Chicago City Council and other progressive state legislators taking their seats.

The 2020 election cycle provides us another opportunity to bolster progressive voices at the state level, and we have endorsed 17 candidates for state legislative races whom we believe will advance our vision. Thanks to our strategic political work, coupled with effective organizing campaigns, candidates now covet a nod from the CTU. They know such an endorsement comes with expectations—expectations that they stand up for justice and equity in our schools and communities.

But remember, our strength in the political and legislative arena comes from you—our members. Whether it’s in City Hall, the state legislature or U.S. Congress, elected officials know what our Union stands for and that our 28,000 members stand together and speak with one voice. It is a powerful voice that is not just being heard, but listened to, in the halls of power.

As the new year unfolds, we need you to be involved in the Union’s political and electoral activities. Contact your elected officials on a regular basis. Visit their offices wearing your CTU red, and bring parents and community members with you. Speak out whenever you can. Contribute to the Union’s Political Action Committee (PAC).

Remember, when we stand and fight in unity, we win—whether those fights are at the bargaining table, in the streets or at the ballot box.

In solidarity,
Jesse Sharkey