A few hundred Chicago teachers, students and parents rallied outside the Cook County Jail Friday morning to protest against the school to prison pipeline.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia joined the protesters, who toted signs reading, "Education not incarceration" and "Fund our schools 2 eliminate prisons."
The action was one of many demonstrations happening across the city in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union's one-day walkout to push for increased school funding and against "unfair labor practices." The union is calling for progressive revenue solutions to stabilize the cash-strapped school district.
Paulina Camacho, a teacher at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago's Pilsen community, spoke to the significance of protesting outside the jail.
"The Cook County Jail takes up 96 acres of a community that is predominately Latino," she said. "And as a teacher, I drive past this structure every day. And it's a reminder of the school to prison pipeline, and the ways in which these larger structures are impacting our students."
"The amount of funding that goes into the prison industrial complex is ridiculous while our schools are being defunded and undervalued," Camacho added.
Garcia posed for photos with teachers and other protesters. He said he supports the striking teachers and their push for progressive revenues to better fund education in Chicago and across the state.
"This was a tough decision for the teachers, but they are looking at the future, and they're looking at a system in Illinois that doesn't fund public education adequately," he told Progress Illinois. "That's why they decided to go on this one-day strike. That's why faculty and students at places like Chicago State University, Northern Illinois University, the University of Illinois are also involved in this, because unless we change our system of financing for education in Illinois and move toward a progressive income tax, then we'll continue to have crises like this, always the race to the bottom, and impacting the poorest children in the system the most."
Garcia's district includes the Cook County Jail.
"I represent the detainees in Cook County Jail. I want the jail population to go down," the commissioner said. "If we don't invest in education and in support services for the poorest children in places like Chicago, then our jail population continues to grow. The expenditures are huge. It's wrongheaded. So it's very important that (teachers, students and others are protesting) here because they're saying if you don't invest in education, then you're gonna wind up paying exorbitant amounts of money to jail people who have no future and begin to lose hope in society."
Check out scenes from the protest, including comments from 18-year-old Gianna Lightfoot, a student at Benito Juarez Community Academy who explains how her school has been impacted by budget cuts:
CPS parent and teacher America Olmedo was among those picketing outside the jail. She teaches at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Pilsen.
"We need funding for our public schools," she stressed.
Olmedo said programs at Saucedo have taken a hit as a result of midyear budget cuts.
"We used to have an after school (and) morning intervention program for students in reading and math. That had to be cut. That was drastically cut. We also had a homework help center. That was also cut," she explained. "We had free buses for teachers to take students on field trips. That was cut last week. So little by little, we've been seeing the cuts."