Chicago Teachers Union Demands Climate Initiatives Amid Student Performance Crisis

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is pushing for climate-related demands in their contract negotiations, despite ongoing struggles with student performance in the classroom. The union’s demands come at a time when a significant percentage of Chicago’s public school students are unable to read at grade level.

According to E&E News, the CTU is advocating for initiatives such as electric school buses, green jobs training programs for students, and reducing emissions from buildings with solar panels and other retrofits. This push is occurring while 2023 testing data indicates that about 75% of Chicago’s public school students were unable to read at grade level, and 83% were behind in math proficiency, as reported by the Illinois Policy Institute.

The union is also calling for the removal of all lead pipes in school buildings, replacement of windows that do not open, and the creation of a “climate champion” role at each school to organize climate-related initiatives and activities. Other proposals include installing solar panels and heat pumps in school buildings and creating “heating and cooling centers” for communal use during extreme temperatures.

These climate initiatives could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars if fully implemented, as noted by E&E News. The CTU may have a strong position in negotiations due to its significant financial support for Democratic Mayor Brandon Johnson’s campaign. Johnson, a former union organizer, may be more inclined to agree to the union’s demands.

The union also played a role in advocating for remote learning during the pandemic, contributing to Chicago’s school system having the worst chronic absenteeism among America’s largest districts, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

“This is Chicago Teachers Union’s demonstration of our accountability to our larger community,” CTU President Stacy Davis Gates told E&E News. “Our collective bargaining agreement and our coalition work, especially in communities of color, will be a net benefit to everyone.”

Neither the CTU nor Mayor Johnson’s office responded immediately to requests for comment.