THE BLOG
08/23/2013 02:33 pm ET Updated Oct 23, 2013

Why Chicago Teachers Support the Fight for a Higher Minimum Wage

A favorite adage of self-styled school reformers is "Your zip code should not determine your destiny." And they're right. However, their narrow vision of school "reform" -- charter schools, fast-track teacher certification programs, and merit pay -- do not address upward mobility.

Research has shown that upward mobility in the United States is a myth. People are likely to end up in the social strata in which they were born. In a city like Chicago that is economically segregated, your zip code will likely determine your destiny.

This fact should not only frame the debate, but should inform policy options for fixing the inequity. This is where the corporate education reformers stop short.

We need to fix schools and alleviate poverty concurrently, but only targeting schools is putting the cart before the horse.

Nations like Finland with low rates of childhood poverty do extremely well academically compared to the United States, a nation with a tragically high rate of childhood poverty. If you control for poverty in your analysis, the American schools do extremely well .

Teachers understand this better than any Astroturf organization. That is why Chicago Teachers Union has endorsed the Fight for Fifteen campaign -- a movement to raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour.

It may seem strange to many that CTU will participate in the Aug. 29 day of action to raise the minimum wage. On the surface, this campaign does not affect educators' earnings. The wages for teachers, paraprofessionals, and clinicians are modest, but still far more than minimum wage.

Chicago's economic shift from manufacturing to service industry jobs pushes parents and guardians into minimum wage work. Families that would otherwise be able to lift themselves out of poverty through hard work and grit are working jobs that pay far less than a living wage.

When students' families lose their homes and are required to stretch food budgets to the limits, children go to school hungry and uncertain where they will be sleeping at night. This kind of stress weighs on them and affects school performance.

Many teenage students have to work to help support their families and the only options they have are minimum-wage jobs.

According to a study conducted by Stand Up Chicago and Chicago Teachers Union:

"[A] one parent/one child family in Chicago would have to earn an annual income of about $35,859, or the equivalent of $17.24 per hour for a full-time worker, to be able to meet their basic needs. This is more than double the earnings of a minimum-wage worker earning $8.25 per hour, and significantly more than a low-wage worker, defined as a worker earning $12.00 per hour or less."

It is important to note that teachers are mandatory reporters. By law, they must report any signs of abuse they feel may be occurring in the home.

Why wouldn't teachers stand up to abusive corporations that reap windfall profits while providing poverty-level jobs for students and their families?

Chicago Teachers Union supports the efforts to fight poverty, which is one area where Astroturf groups like Stand for Children, Students First, and Democrats for Education Reform fail.

Why won't these groups advocate for a higher minimum wage?

They are called "corporate education reformers" for good reason. People like the Walton Family fund these groups. The Waltons own the Walmart Corporation, one of the biggest providers of bargain-basement wages for its employees, many of whom are forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet. When these Astroturfers refuse to advocate for policies that directly address poverty, they are ensuring low labor costs for their funders.

Contributions to these groups from corporate behemoths are an investment in their bottom line.

In contrast, educators -- the people who work with children every day -- fund teachers unions, which is why unions invest in children.

That is why Chicago educators will rally alongside low-wage workers on Aug. 29th at Chicago's Federal Plaza (50 W. Adams) at 3:30 p.m.

Journalist Sarah Jaffe talks to Ed Schultz about New York fast food strikes.