Since 2017, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) keeps claiming there is no money for special education positions. The reality is exactly the opposite. Time after time, CPS chooses to pay down its backlog of bills rather than focusing on students’ future even though the funds for fully staffing special education kids are there. CPS is not solely at fault, however. Illinois’ absurdly broad tax laws allow the City of Chicago to keep choosing tax breaks for wealthy companies that mean they barely contribute to public service funding. As a result, CPS remains in perpetual limbo along with students and our entire community.
During a recent strike authorization vote campaign, SEIU Local 73 member Griffin Ross visited over 120 schools. While there are significant differences among the needs of each school, one key similarity rose to the top, one Griffin experienced firsthand as a Special Education Classroom Assistant (SECA). From cafeteria monitorship, fire drill processing, to clerking, CPS uses SECAs in roles that no one starting an educational career would ever foresee, making it difficult to deliver quality special education services. Every SECA Griffin has met is committed to giving their students a robust, rich educational experience yet they’re siphoned away from the roles they’ve trained for into positions that barely affect special education students.
CPS also denies SECAs their rightful place at the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) table. IEPs inform all special education work and spell out all accommodations that SECAs deliver. Given how closely SECAs work with their students, SECAs often know students better than their teachers do. But when it’s time for plan renewal, SECAs are denied the chance to speak about the very children they care for on a daily basis.
It comes down to common sense. It’s time to remind CPS that caring for staff is caring for kids. SECAs are uniquely qualified and positioned to serve some of our most vulnerable learners. SECAs need more fully funded positions and a meaningful voice in determining the most effective plans and accommodations for their students. So far, CPS has refused to bring proposals to the bargaining table that do that. A strike is the most powerful tool to get what is needed for the kids. Griffin’s hope is that they will recognize SECAs vital role as the school year begins and is ready to strike if that’s what it takes to win for his kids.
When we have the opportunity to come together in our unions, we have a real voice at work to raise wages and improve our communities so that the next generation can have a better future. We’re fighting so all workers—Black, white and brown—in America have the right to join a union for safe workplaces, a living wage, and a secure retirement. Together we can have the power to ensure that every family and community can thrive.