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Teachers union calls for $713 million in CPS improvements

Karen GJ Lewis President Chicago Teachers Uniunveiled comprehensive plan strengthen quality educatiChicago Public Schools during news conference CTU Headquarters Thursday

Karen GJ Lewis, President, Chicago Teachers Union, unveiled a comprehensive plan to strengthen the quality of education in Chicago Public Schools during news conference at CTU Headquarters Thursday, February 16, 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: March 18, 2012 8:12AM

The Chicago Teachers Union Thursday issued a $713 million blueprint for change in the Chicago Public Schools grounded in smaller class sizes in the early grades and hiring more teachers in general.

A 45-page paper titled “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve” also suggested $796 million in revenue sources, including new “taxes on the wealthy,” although some of its ideas would require changes in state law.

The paper’s lead author, CTU head researcher Carol Caref, said CPS “creates conditions that get many students off to a bad start” with its unusually large class sizes in the early grades.

Chicago’s kindergarten class size of 24.6 is higher than that in 95 percent of the state’s districts, Caref said. Through third grade, CPS class sizes are 12th highest in the state.

The CTU recommended reducing K-3 class sizes from 28 to 20, at an estimated cost of $170 million — a “mere drop in the bucket” of the CPS budget, Caref said.

The longterm payoff is worth it, Caref said. She pointed to research indicating that smaller class sizes in the early grades produce academic results that extend all the way “into high school and beyond.” Positive results are particularly strong among low-income and minority students, the paper noted.

Other CTU recommendations include providing full-day kindergarten, offering every student at least two periods a day of enrichment — ranging from fine arts to physical education to world language; and adding 2,600 counselors, social workers and other support staff to bring CPS to professionally-recognized staffing levels.

The paper emerged in the early stages of negotiations on a teachers contract that expires June 30 and as CPS continues to tout its plans to lengthen the school day and year systemwide by fall.

Although CTU President Karen Lewis noted repeatedly that the report’s recommendations were based on research, its suggestions also were heavy on ideas that would require the hiring of more teachers and CTU members — something that also would boost CTU dues-based coffers.

In response, CPS officials stood behind their longer-day push as the answer to what ails CPS.

“We are united with our teachers to use resources in the most effective way to allow students to be successful in the classroom,” CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said via email. “That’s why we are implementing a full school day next year to provide both teachers and students with the tools they need to provide more robust learning around core subjects like math, reading and science.”

To raise revenue, the report suggested using unallocated tax-increment-financing funds, adopting a progressive state income tax, and instituting a 6-cent “financial transaction tax” on financial and speculative trading.

Such “taxes on the wealthy” would ”decrease income inequality while bringing needed revenue to services for children and working families,” the report said.

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