By Brendan O'Brien
CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren rallied with striking Chicago teachers on Tuesday, expressing support for the union's demands before the country's third-largest school system canceled classes for a fifth day.
Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and former teacher, joined a crowd of hundreds of teachers and parents outside an elementary school to back the Chicago teachers' demands for more resources, and promised to boost funding for U.S. public schools if elected president in 2020.
"I'm here to stand with every one of the people who stand for our children every day," Warren said to applause.
The teachers union called the work stoppage last week after contract negotiations failed to produce a deal on pay, overcrowding in schools and a lack of support staff such as nurses and social workers.
About 300,000 students have been out of school since Thursday when the system's 25,000 teachers went on strike.
Warren, a leading progressive, is one of the top Democratic candidates seeking her party's nomination to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
Her campaign proposals include making an $800 billion investment in public schools and canceling all student loan debt.
Sergio Criollo, a bilingual teacher who attended the rally, said he was encouraged by Warren's appearance.
"The fact that presidential candidates are seeing what we are doing, hopefully we will create a movement here in Illinois and other states," Criollo said.
The strike is the latest in a wave of work stoppages in U.S. school districts, in which demands for resources have superseded calls for higher salaries and benefits. In Chicago and elsewhere, teachers have emphasized the need to help underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.
On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was frustrated that part of the teachers union bargaining team was taking the day off from negotiations to participate in rallies. She has called for the union to end the strike and make a deal with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
"There should be a sense of urgency," she said. "We have been making progress, not enough, not fast enough."
Later in the day, CPS Chief Executive Janice Jackson said classes were canceled for a fifth day as negotiators were unable to reach a deal. She said CPS had put updated class-size and support-staff proposals on the bargaining table.
"The offer not only reflects CPS’ and CTU’s shared vision of equity and prioritizes supports for our highest need schools first; it also protects our students’ academic progress by ensuring the district’s long-term financial stability," she said.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said the CPS proposals only addressed a small percentage of overcrowded classes and that the support-staff proposals did not adequately meet the needs of the district.
Lightfoot, who was elected in April, said the district offered a raise for teachers of 16% over five years but could not afford the union's full demands, which would cost an extra $2.4 billion annually.
With no end to negotiations in sight, teachers were planning to rally in downtown Chicago during rush hour on Wednesday morning.
Although the latest work stoppage has forced officials to cancel classes and sports events, school buildings are staying open for children in need of a place to go.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter and Joseph Ax in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)