Chicago Teachers Union President: Strike is About ‘The Very Soul of Public Education’

By Matt Cover | September 11, 2012 | 12:26 PM EDT

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. (AP)

( – Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis told a Labor Day rally last week that the teachers’ strike that began on Monday was not just about the CTU’s salary demands, but about “the very soul of public education.”

Speaking to a labor day rally on Sept. 3, Lewis said that the fight between Chicago Public School (CPS) officials and the CTU over how large a raise teachers would receive over the coming years was not a fight she or the union picked, noting that instead it was a fight for the soul of government-run education.

“This fight is not about Karen Lewis,” she said. “Let’s be clear, this fight is for the very soul of public education not only in Chicago, but everywhere.”

“Brothers and sisters, we did not start this fight,” Lewis said. “And I do want to correct something -- Karen Lewis did not get a strike vote. Let’s be clear: that was the hard work of every single member of the Chicago Teachers Union.”  (Her quote starts at around 2:30 into the video.)

The CTU went on strike on Monday, Sept. 10, after rejecting CPS officials’ offer of a 16 percent raise spread out over four years. Both sides had reportedly agreed on a longer work day for teachers; the current day ends at 3 p.m.

At issue are CTU demands for a hire-back policy for laid-off teachers and CTU opposition to tying teacher performance reviews to student test scores, in addition to the size of teacher raises.

Approximately 350,000 Chicago students remain locked out of their schools as the strike continues on Tuesday.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the average CTU teacher makes approximately $71,200 per year, making CTU teachers some of the highest paid in the country.

Despite some of the highest teacher salaries in the country, CPS students consistently score below the national average in reading and math.

As reported on Monday, U.S. Department of Education figures show that 80 percent of Chicago 8th graders are not grade-level proficient in math and 79 percent are not grade-level proficient in reading.