The Policy Shop: CTU’s next target? Public school choice.

The Policy Shop: CTU’s next target? Public school choice.

This edition of The Policy Shop is by policy analyst Hannah Schmid.

The Chicago Teachers Union has been making a list, checking it twice, figuring out how to be naughty – not nice.

Killed private school choice. The CTU destroyed the Invest in Kids Act through liberal investments of cash and threats during 2023, making Illinois the only state to roll back school choice. Now nearly 10,000 low-income students face potentially leaving the private schools that sustained and nurtured them when their public schools did not.

Since 2018, Invest in Kids gave low-income parents a choice about their children’s educations. Tax credits were awarded to donors who helped disadvantaged students receive a scholarship to a private school. Parents loved it because it meant money stopped being a barrier to their children’s future success. It was so popular beyond the 9,656 Illinois students who received scholarships last school year, there were 24,000 who wanted the scholarships for this current year. They are all likely out of luck for the next school year, unless school choice advocates can convince state lawmakers to save the program or replace it with something better.

The need for the private-school option is obvious, but it is puzzling when those working to kill it for the poor are using it for themselves. CTU President Stacy Davis Gates makes over $289,000 a year and chose a private school for her own son because he can’t get the academic or athletic options he needs from public schools dominated by her union. The Illinois Education Association’s chief lobbyist, Sean Denney, succeeded in ending Invest in Kids, makes about $189,000 but chooses parochial school for his own children in Springfield.

And now public-school choice. The CTU has long worked against Illinois’ public-school options: charter schools and selective enrollment schools.

Strike threats and contract demands by CTU put limits on the number of charter schools. CTU limited charter school enrollment. It limited those schools’ ability to use vacant space in former public schools. It limited the cash for capital improvements to 0.6% of those dollars when charters educate 10% of the elementary and 25% of the high school students in Chicago. It fights efforts to open charter high schools to help the 45,000 teens and young adults who dropped out and are unemployed.

Now it is fighting charter schools over renewal of their charters – the agreements on each charter school’s mission and performance standards. They had been as long as 10 years and are now as short as two years. It’s hard to invest in the future, keep staff or attract students when no one is sure you’ll be around for very long – a destabilizing effect that CTU is gleefully creating.

Deselected. So what’s next on CTU’s hit list? They just killed Chicago’s selective enrollment schools, including 11 high schools. These schools offer the best students the best resources and produce outstanding results. The rest of Chicago Public Schools produce much less than excellence.

Nine of the 11 high schools produce better results than the CPS’ woeful average of failing 1 in 5 students. Most selective enrollment schools also deliver that superior education to mostly low-income and minority students at a lower cost than the CPS average.

Better results, lower cost: no wonder CTU targeted them.

Members on the Chicago Board of Education, appointed by former-CTU organizer Mayor Brandon Johnson, approved a resolution Dec. 14 which will transition CPS away from “privatization and admissions/enrollment policies” that allow students options to enroll in public selective enrollment schools, among others.

CTU leadership called the plan a “step in the right direction” and decried selective enrollment schools’ “deep inequity.”

Here again is CTU’s penchant for hypocrisy: former CTU President Jesse Sharkey and former CTU lobbyist and now-Chicago Mayor Johnson both sent their kids to selective schools. But when it comes to needy children facing threats to their basic survival? CTU’s leaders believe it’s better that nearly 10,000 minority and over 7,500 low-income high school students be dragged into underperforming schools.

CTU’s motto: Mediocrity for all, higher taxes for all, more money and power for us.

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