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Parents in Chicago were scrambling today to figure out child care after teachers in the nation's third-largest school district went on strike. Still, many of those parents say they support the teachers. While pay has been a sticking point, teachers say the strike is more about educational issues like librarians and smaller class sizes. Sarah Karp from WBEZ reports.
SARAH KARP, BYLINE: Outside an elementary school on the city's South Side Thursday morning, music blared as teachers danced, held up signs and basked in cars honking in support. Hazel Malo's (ph) children stopped to hug their teachers before they went into the school.
HAZEL MALO: We're bringing them school just for activities. I couldn't find a sitter, and I have to work.
KARP: The school district knew a lot of the parents of its 300,000 students would be in this boat, so they have principals and other administrators opening the schools. The schools also are serving meals. And in fact, some children who walked into the school alone said they were mostly coming for the free breakfast and lunch.
But Malo says despite the inconvenience, she's behind the teachers.
MALO: I mean, they're here because they care about our kids. It's all about the kids.
KARP: That's the thing about this strike in Chicago. Unlike most strikes, which are about pay, that's not the driving force in this case. This is fourth-grade teacher Autumn Laidler on the picket line Thursday morning.
AUTUMN LAIDLER: We want to be compensated as professionals. But I think our issues around better schools are the reason that we're out here for our kids.
KARP: Another teacher, Moselean Parker, broke down the teachers' biggest demands at a rally when the union announced it was striking Wednesday evening.
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MOSELEAN PARKER: 'Cause we want a smaller class size, because we want the school - social workers. We want nurses. We need clinicians in the school. I will not sit down on this.
KARP: Specifically, the union wants lower class sizes and hard class size caps. And it's demanding the school district put in writing promises for more staff. Unlike many places across the country, schools in Chicago often have a nurse or social worker once or twice a week. Few schools have librarians. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she agrees these things are needed. And after months of resisting, she finally agreed just days ago to put some promises in the union's contract. Now the big question is, what does that mean? Lightfoot says the union's demands are too expensive.
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LORI LIGHTFOOT: CPS finances are still recovering from the brink of insolvency, and we do not have unlimited funds.
KARP: But despite some progress around staffing and class sizes, the union says it doesn't really know what the city is offering. Jesse Sharkey is the president of the teachers union. He stopped to talk on a picket line Thursday morning.
JESSE SHARKEY: As of me standing here talking to you right now, we have not yet seen the board's offer on that in writing. They showed me a piece of paper, but they haven't actually given me that piece of paper.
KARP: At the same time, Lightfoot made it seem as though the union was not bargaining. Here's what she had to say.
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LIGHTFOOT: We can't bargain by ourselves. So what we need is for the union to come back to the table, to bargain in good faith and spend the time actually getting a deal done.
KARP: Both sides say they want this strike to wrap up quickly, yet they don't seem to be on exactly the same page. While the strike goes on, Lightfoot says classes will continue to be canceled. But school buildings will remain open - just without teachers inside.
For NPR News, this is Sarah Karp from Chicago.
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