One of the seemingly smaller issues that striking Chicago teachers are asking for is air-conditioning in schools where there isn’t any.

Chicago parents drop their children off to spend the morning — without teachers — at Benjamin E. Mays Academy during the strike. ((M. Spencer Green/AP))

Indeed, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is battling the Chicago Teachers Union, said the other day: “It’s 71 degrees outside. We don’t go on strike for air conditioning.” (He apparently forgot that some classes had to be cancelled because of a deadly heat wave this past summer, but never mind.)

The real issue here, of course, isn’t the temperature in Chicago. It is this: Why shouldn’t the climate in American public school buildings be conducive to teaching and learning? This isn’t just a perk for greedy teachers; environment affects students.

If you have ever tried to concentrate when it is stifling hot, you can imagine what happens in many schoolrooms. A number of studies have borne out the link between the quality of school facilities and student achievement.

That means most schools (except in places with consistently moderate weather) should have working air conditioning and/or heating systems, windows that open, air that doesn’t reek from pesticides or old carpets or anything else, and doors so that one class doesn’t have to hear another. No lead paint. No asbestos.

In Chicago, many of the schools are crumbling, quite literally, and wouldn’t you know it — they are among the lowest performing. A 2011 study of the facilities found that 92 Chicago Public School buildings, with a total of 44,100 students, need an average of $137 per square foot — a total of $750 million — to bring them into good repair. All but 15 percent of students in those schools come from low-income families.

There are those, of course, who will say this: “Kids learn in difficult conditions in other countries. Why can’t American kids?”

Setting aside the issue of how other students really learn, the answer is: Why should they have to?

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