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Chicago Teachers Strike 2019

Chicago teachers and their supporters protest downtown on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019.

Manuel Martinez

Newsletter: Is Chicago Public Schools Broke?

Good afternoon! It’s Thursday, and I found out my dentist has a box full of grills and I’m definitely going to wear one … (sees interim WBEZ CEO Steve Edwards walk by) … not at work! Here’s what you need to know today. (PS: You can have this delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.)

1. Is Chicago Public Schools broke or flush with money?

That’s one of the central questions being debated in the standoff between city officials and the Chicago Teachers Union. So who’s right? WBEZ’s Sarah Karp dug in.

The union, which is asking for more money to enforce things like smaller class sizes and more support staff, says CPS has an extra $1 billion after state lawmakers overhauled how it pays for public education in 2017.

But school officials say they’re still struggling to make ends meet even with the extra money. And as Karp reports, huge debt and massive pension bills are weighing down the district’s finances.

So where does that leave the two sides as they try to find a way to end the teachers strike, now in its sixth day? Check out Karp’s analysis. [WBEZ]

And here’s a look at the issues driving the teachers strike. [WBEZ]

2. Impeachment inquiry could go public next month

House Democrats are planning to hold public hearings as early as mid-November, reports The Washington Post. The news comes after some Republican lawmakers tried storming into a closed-door deposition yesterday.

Among the witnesses who could appear before the public is William Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine. Taylor told House investigators this week that President Donald Trump froze U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he tried pressuring the country’s leader to investigate his political rivals. [Washington Post]

Ukraine officials said they needed that military aid to help fight Russian-backed separatists. That conflict, mostly forgotten by the outside world until this week’s revelations in Washington, has seen 13,000 people dead and a large part of Ukraine under Russia’s control. [New York Times]

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports that Ukraine’s leader felt pressured to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. [AP]

3. Illinois is running out of vaccines for low-income kids

And flu season is right around the corner.

Earlier this year, Gov. JB Pritzker made it easier for some low-income kids to get free vaccinations, but the Illinois Department of Public Health did not anticipate a surge in demand. A state public health official said in a memo that more vaccines have been ordered and are expected to arrive tomorrow. [WBEZ]

Speaking of vaccinations, people who visited Disneyland on Oct. 16 might have been exposed to measles. [NBC News]

4. Pence says U.S. stands with Hong Kong protesters

Vice President Mike Pence gave a major foreign policy speech in China today and slammed Beijing’s attempts to clamp down on the “rights and freedoms” in Hong Kong.

Pence’s comments are the strongest critique yet from the Trump administration on China’s handling of the civil unrest in Hong Kong. Pence’s comments also come as U.S. and Chinese negotiators are expected to resume trade talks tomorrow, and the tone of the vice president’s speech may offer a window into how tough the Trump administration is willing to get with China on a wide range of issues. [Reuters]

Pence also had some words for the NBA, which has been criticized for bowing to Chinese censors after a basketball executive tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters.

“In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of that authoritarian regime,” Pence said. [USA Today]

5. All 39 bodies found in U.K. are believed to be from China

British investigators say the bodies, which were found in a refrigerated container just east of London, all appear to be Chinese nationals. The truck’s driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, remains in custody on suspicion of murder.

Authorities have determined that the truck and the trailer did not enter the U.K. together and are piecing together the timeline of the trailer’s whereabouts before it was found by police yesterday. Authorities have searched three properties in Northern Ireland as part of their investigation into possible human smuggling and murder. [NPR]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Elijah Cummings was the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol. [Politico]
  • Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson won support from some religious leaders. [WBEZ]
  • An immigrant mother is again seeking sanctuary at a church in the Chicago area. [WBEZ]
  • The Chicago Transit Authority will not hike fares. [Chicago Tribune]

Oh, and one more thing …

Recreational marijuana will be legal in Illinois on Jan. 1 (not like anyone at WBEZ is counting down the days). But can employers still fire workers who are tokin’ up?

Before you take a bong hit (on Jan. 1 obviously), the short answer is yes, businesses in Illinois can still give employees a pink slip if they fail to pass a drug test, even if that worker is getting high on their own time. That’s partly because weed is still illegal on the federal level.

But the issue will most likely be decided by the courts in the long run. [WBEZ]

Meanwhile, WBEZ wants to know how parents are talking to their children about the legalization of recreational marijuana, and we’d like to know what questions your kids have. You can send them to WBEZ’s Mariah Woelfel at

Tell me something good ...

Halloween is almost here. What’s your favorite Halloween memory?

Michael Chazin writes:

“This goes back aways. . . to the ’60s. Back then it was before all the scares and you could freely give away homemade treats like popcorn balls, brownies and homemade taffy apples.

“One of my floor mates in the dorm at the University of Illinois was from a small town in downstate Illinois. They would give away taffy apples, but instead of apples they would put sticks in tomatoes and then cover them with caramel. Trick or treat right? One of the best tricks ever.”

What’s your favorite Halloween memory? Feel free to email at or tweet me at @whuntah.

Have a nice night! I’ll see you tomorrow. And if you like what you just read, you can subscribe to the newsletter here and have it delivered to your inbox.

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