Students at an impoverished school district in Illinois have lost an entire month of school thanks to a strike by teachers which still hasn’t ended.
The teacher walkout in East St. Louis, a suburb of the Missouri metropolis, began Oct. 1 when teachers rejected a deal that would have given them $2,000 apiece and a small salary increase, in return for slower salary growth, all intended to help the district’s finances stay above water.
The strike has continued for 21 school days, forcing 6,000 students in the city to stay home. A tentative deal was finally reached Friday that could result in schools reopening Monday, but by that point, four weeks of school will have vanished. In a typical 180-day U.S. school year, that amounts to more than 11 percent of the school year.
The casualties go beyond just lost class time. The school football team has had to forfeit every October game. Homecoming was canceled. With pretty much every student eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, there are concerns students are going hungry. Just about the only learning options available for the past month have been at the city’s lone, cash-strapped public library, which has had view visitors.
The strike has aggravated problems for what is arguably America’s worst city. East St. Louis has a murder rate nearly 20 times the national average, and a poverty rate of over 35 percent. The city’s urban blight is so severe that its downtown was used as the filming location for John Carpenter’s sci-fi dystopia Escape from New York.
Missing out on school may not be a huge tragedy for East St. Louis’s unfortunate youth, though. The school district’s academic performance was so atrocious that only 14.6 percent of high schoolers met expectations on the statewide PSAE exam in 2014. Not a single student tested as “exceeding expectations” in math or science. The city’s average ACT score is a brutal 14.8, roughly the 15th percentile nationwide.
Nevertheless, teachers say they deserve more money. Several of the strikers complained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the school district has millions in its reserve funds, and can therefore afford to pay them more.
“There’s a one-sided negotiation going on,” math teacher Alonzo Nelson Jr. said.
Still, if the union ratifies a tentative agreement later today, which will yield slightly more pay to the city’s teachers, the strike may finally come to an end. Whether it will do any good for the city’s beleaguered children, though, remains to be seen.