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Chicago Teachers’ Strike: Not a Budget Crisis, a Crisis of Priorities

More than 5,000 supporters of Chicago’s teachers gathered outside the Hyatt Regency Thursday at the fourth day of the teachers’ strike, then marched down Michigan Avenue in a show of solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The crowd had a strong message for Penny Pritzker, the billionaire member of the Chicago Board of Education whose family owns the Hyatt hotels: taxpayer funds are going to your hotel chain while our schools are crumbling, and that is unacceptable.

The marchers included members of the Grassroots Collaborative, Action Now, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, community leaders from organizations all across Chicago, and teachers representing schools from around the city.

“We’re not in a budget crisis – we’re in a crisis of priorities,” said Regis Banks, a member of SEIU Local 73 who is married to a Chicago Public Schools teacher.

“While Penny Pritzker will benefit from the use of our tax money for her hotel chain, 160 schools still don’t have libraries, and 150 those schools are in brown and black neighborhoods,”  he said.

More than $5 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds are being used to build a new Hyatt hotel in Hyde Park — money that could have been spent to meet basic student needs, like books and air conditioning.

Analysis from the Chicago Reporter and Chicago Reader indicate TIF funds mostly benefit downtown Chicago and neglect struggling neighborhoods. During Pritzker’s tenure on the Board of Education, she has allowed hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to be siphoned from public schools into downtown projects.

“I am not pleased to see how the teachers are being disrespected by our city’s elected officials and CPS board members like Penny Pritzker,” said Will Longwe, a student at Northeastern Illinois University and a member of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

“Instead of spending millions of TIF dollars on our students,” said Longwe, “The Board would rather spend TIF money on building new hotels like the Hyatt to line the pockets of their friends.”

Mayor Emanuel’s priorities sacrifice the education of Chicago’s students in order to dole out money to politically connected groups and big corporations. Neighborhood residents understand that the same interests that create bad education outcomes create bad economic conditions in our neighborhoods.

“Not only is the mayor taking our tax dollars and giving them to millionaires, he’s letting those millionaires decide what’s best for our children,” said Charles Brown, a retired Chicago police officer and a member of Action Now. “That’s not right!

“We are saying to the mayor: give our tax dollars to schools, not millionaires! Give our teachers a fair contract and give our children good schools with equal resources!” Brown said. 

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