By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
26th District challenger Jay Travis and her top fundraiser, the Chicago Teachers Union, have slammed state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) for accepting tens of thousands of dollars in donations from Oregon-based special interest group Stand for Children.
During this election cycle, Mitchell has received $66,000 from Stand for Children — including a $45,000 donation just last month — making the group his top donor this campaign season so far. These funds stand just about $10,000 shy of Travis’ total campaign receipts — although the top donor’s contributions account for a smaller percentage of Mitchell’s total campaign receipts than does CPS of Travis.’ (See pie charts in “Dollars pouring into 26th.”)
These contributions have stirred controversy because of Stand for Children’s role in promoting teacher evaluations and charter schools, which critics argue harms the integrity of the public school system. In promotional literature touting its accomplishments, the group claims credit for the 2011 passage of Senate Bill 7 — which linked teacher layoffs and tenure to a teacher evaluation scheme implemented by 2010’s Performance Evaluation Reform Act.
“That concern has only been raised by CTU and Jay Travis, and it’s pretty clear that that reason is political,” Mitchell said.
But Travis argues that Mitchell’s actions reflect Stand for Children’s influence and that the group’s agenda “limits opportunities for really intellectually stimulating [curricula] in classrooms and providing real teaching and learning opportunities around a strong and robust curriculum.”
When “you don’t take action, and your campaigns continue to be bankrolled by people who are promoting an agenda of high-stakes testing, the proliferation of charter schools, it’s not that hard for people to connect the dots,” Travis said.
Both candidates now support an elected school board — although Mitchell once supported a hybrid board — and both argue for reducing the reliance of education funding on property taxes. Mitchell says he is still mulling HB3754, a bill that would abolish the state’s charter school commission. The group, established two years ago, currently reviews appeals for charter school proposals rejected by school districts.
“I’m still looking at the bill,” Mitchell said, but called it a “deflection” from the issue of education funding reform. “I think that people are using this, the whole charter versus neighborhood false choice as a political hammer — it’s basically a purity perch.”