To the Editor:
Billions of public dollars run through our school systems nationally, and venture capitalists and big finance have made it a priority to get their hands on those dollars. In Illinois, the enablers of this scheme are our governor, our mayor and their allies among both Republicans and corporate Democrats. Rauner’s proposed takeover of Chicago schools and his parallel push for CPS to declare ‘bankruptcy’ is designed to benefit one constituency: big finance. These are Rauner’s people — and he shares dozens of these deep-pocketed supporters with his old friend Rahm Emanuel.
Emanuel’s former school board president, investment banker David Vitale, oversaw both Chicago schools’ toxic swap deals and the push to privatize our school system under former Mayor Richard Daley, Emanuel’s political mentor. Emanuel, like Rauner, argues that the contracts that feed the toxic swap trough are sacrosanct — while contracts with workers are apparently hardly worth the paper they’re written on. Remember this hypocrisy when Emanuel cries crocodile tears over Rauner’s proposal — and remember Rauner’s role as a privileged education ‘advisor’ to Emanuel before he ran for governor.
Rauner’s plan preserves the toxic swaps that have put CPS on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars — and puts big finance first in line to get paid. That’s a mirror image of Emanuel’s strategy, which leads with paying toxic swap dollars to his big finance allies, rather than challenging these shady deals in court.
And Rauner’s proposed takeover opens the door to a wholesale assault on classroom standards, living wages and worker rights that teachers have fought to safeguard for decades. Again, that scenario mirrors Emanuel’s, which is built on the prospect of massive layoffs that gut public education, in tandem with expanded privatization — and zero public oversight. These same politicians have jointly boosted the agendas of politically connected school privatizers like UNO and Concept Charters, who’ve received more than $100 million alone in taxpayer funds to construct and run schools with dubious track records and a history of corruption.
Daley helped grease the skids for today’s funding crisis more than a decade ago, when his legislative allies in Springfield passed the 1995 Amendatory Act that gave Chicago’s Mayor the power to appoint the school board — and remove the tax levy that paid teachers pensions. Daley promptly used his authority to take a ten year pension holiday which has hugely exacerbated the city’s financial challenges. What better way to undermine public services and worker rights than to manufacture a crisis and then use that ‘crisis’ as an excuse to enrich big finance lenders at the expense of the rest of us?
Daley’s successor has exacerbated the crisis — by continuing the attack on neighborhood public schools, shifting those precious public dollars to politically connected school privatizers, miring the system further in debt and allowing a culture of crony capitalism to fester on a board whose members have openly profited from school business. The systemic corruption and incompetence in the system under Emanuel has seen his hand-picked top bureaucrat convicted of seeking millions of dollars in bribes for orchestrating yet another no-bid contract while neighborhood schools struggle with endless budget cuts that hurt students in some the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Special interest groups like Stand For Children are at the heart of this privatization scheme. They’re bankrolled by rich donors like Governor Rauner — and eagerly fork out campaign cash to corporate Democrats who support their agenda, from Mayor Emanuel to 26th District State Representative Christian Mitchell, who’s received more than $150,000 alone from Stand For Children.
Parents, educators and organizers have been raising the alarm about these dynamics for years. They understand that a child’s ability to fully participate in society and help build a more just world is grounded in access to an equitably funded public education. They also understand that the parallel schemes in play today from City Hall and Springfield hurt people of color hardest — students, workers and whole communities.
The people of Chicago have not asked for appointed emergency managers and then an elected school board. The voters have asked for a millionaire’s tax, a progressive income tax and a democratically elected school board.
Real change at CPS requires three critical actions: an end to toxic swap deals, democratic governance of Chicago’s public schools through an elected representative school board, and a school funding strategy with consistent, progressive sustainable revenue streams. It’s what the people have demanded — and what the people deserve.