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Chicago teachers nearing strike

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Teachers in Chicago could go on strike next week if the school district and the teachers union can’t agree on a new contract by Sunday night. It would be the first strike for a big-city school district since 2006, when Detroit teachers walked off the job for 16 days. For the last year, union leaders have tried to push Mayor Rahm Emanuel into focusing on other issues: smaller class sizes, more art and music programs and job security.

The president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Lewis, says the contract fight is about preserving the “public” in public schools: “We’ve seen public housing shut down, public health clinics, public libraries and now public schools.”

The school district has closed more than 100 schools in the last decade. About the same number of charter schools have popped up around the city. These are privately run schools that get taxpayer money.

In that same decade, the Chicago Teachers Union lost 8,000 members. It’s a trend that’s happening across the country, but a lot is riding on what happens here, says Robert Bruno, a labor expert at the University of Illinois. He says if the union can convince the district to approve fewer charter schools, it’ll be a big win. But if negotiations fail, he says, it could be yet another setback for public sector unions.

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