Chicago teachers' strike begins second day

Chicago public school teachers picket on an overpass near downtown on September 10, 2012 in Chicago, Ill.

Thirty-thousand teachers are again on strike today in Chicago after the city and the teachers union failed to agree on a new contract.

The Chicago Teachers Union says this is about two things: how salaries and raises for teachers are closely linked to test performance, and how much job security these union members really have.

The city, on the other hand, wants more flexibility in deciding who should and shouldn't teach, especially in the face of a big budget deficit. The public schools in Chicago are currently in the hole around $665 million, projected to climb up towards a billion pretty fast.

Robert Costrell teaches education at the University of Arkansas. "I really don’t know how the math is going to work for districts like Chicago, he says. "They’re facing  pretty dire circumstances."

The school district is the third biggest in the U.S., with some 350,000 students -- but Chicago is by no means alone, and similar problems are plaguing places like Philadelphia and Cleveland. Costrell has looked closely at the finances of a number of school systems around the country, and "there's going to be bankruptcies," he warns.

The reasons for all the budget issues, the city says, are rising pension costs and low revenues. Unlike the federal government, Chicago, as a city, isn't able to print more money to help get out of the situation, so its options are a big more limited.

Now, as the fight continues, Chicago-area parents are facing their own battle: what to do with their children during school hours.

Leslie Woods lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. She’s a single mother, and her daughter’s school is offering some childcare while teachers are on strike, but just a half day -- so yesterday and today, Woods has stayed home.

Across the city, organizations are trying to help parents like Woods. Nina Tinucci works at Kids Science Labs and she says parents across Chicago are "scrambling to find something to do with their kids while they’re at work."

Some school facilities are open to provide childcare on a limited basis. In addition there are "strike camps" popping up all over the city; but it doesn't run cheap -- around $325 for the week according to Tinucci --  and it's already sold out.

One other option? The Chicago Children's Museum is offering free admission to all Chicago Public School students this week, according to the head of the museum Jennifer Farrington. But students have to be accompanied by an adult -- a parent or a childcare provider.

Back in Hyde Park, Leslie Woods is taking it one day at a time, hoping there’s an agreement soon. "I will have to go to the office tomorrow," she worries,  "so if they strike again tomorrow, I’m not sure what I’m going to do."

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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