Vallas: Chicago Teachers Union restricts public school choice, too

Vallas: Chicago Teachers Union restricts public school choice, too

Stacy Davis Gates’ hypocrisy isn’t just about denying families the private school choices she enjoys. It’s also a blatant attack on public school options, particularly public charter schools.

With the coverage of Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates’ efforts to dismantle the Invest in Kids scholarship program, what’s glaringly absent is a focus on her and CTU’s overt hostility towards public charter schools.

In choosing a private school for her own child, Davis Gates lamented the absence of “quality” neighborhood schools for Black parents on the South and West sides. But that’s ignoring a key fact: CTU’s actions have contributed to the lack of options for families.

CTU has been the primary obstacle to charter school expansion in Chicago and statewide. Through collective bargaining agreements, CTU prohibited growth in the number of charter schools allowed in Chicago and capped the number of students allowed to enroll in charters, even in high-performing schools with available space and long waiting lists. And they blocked charters from using public school buildings left vacant after school closings in 2013, buildings that could have given neighborhood children a quality option.

To the union, their assault on the state’s Invest in Kids program is not about public funding for education. It’s about power and refusing to yield an inch.

The Invest in Kids program is capped at $75 million in state income tax credits. No money is diverted from Illinois’ education budget to provide for the donor-funded Invest in Kids scholarships. Far from taking away state dollars, funding to Illinois public schools has increased by nearly $1.98 billion since the inception of school choice scholarships for low-income children. Plus, a study a decade ago showed private school saves the government up to $3,000 per child by removing the need to educate a child for whom taxes are still received. That shows how false Davis Gates’ and other opponents’ claims are about the program siphoning money from public schools.

Meanwhile, public charter schools, CTU’s real competition, are being slowly suffocated.

Charter schools are non-profit public institutions that are free and open to all students. They operate as schools of choice, offering greater flexibility in school models and calendars and allowing alternative teacher hiring and retention practices, among other things. Traditional public schools are not allowed this critical flexibility, essential for school improvement, because of CTU’s stranglehold through restrictive teacher union contracts.

The union perceives charter schools as the greatest threat to their education monopoly because families have shown when provided with educational alternatives, they will make the choice to flee from CTU-controlled schools.

Chicago Public Schools outspends nearly every school district in the nation per pupil. Since 2019, per-pupil spending has ballooned 40% to nearly $30,000 per student, despite an 11% drop in enrollment. The disparity in funding between charter and traditional public school students in Chicago is large, with traditional public school students receiving more than $8,600 more per student than a Chicago public charter school.

The CTU should indeed fear charters. Recent studies consistently demonstrate charters outperform traditional public schools in student proficiency. Black and Latino children fare significantly better in them.

For impoverished Chicago families, primarily Black and Latino, who can’t afford a private education and are left on waiting lists to receive Illinois’ Invest in Kids scholarships, charters represent the sole alternative to failing neighborhood schools. In Chicago, 98% of the 54,000 charter school students are Black and Latino, and 86% receive free or reduced lunch.

CTU has controlled charter schools historically by restricting their growth through their collective bargaining agreements. They also ensured public charters weren’t able to use empty CPS buildings, preferring those building sit empty rather than provide students with a likely better educational opportunity.

So the next time Davis Gates defends her decision to enroll her child in a private school thanks to the poor quality of neighborhood schools, remember she leads the group most responsible for the condition of those schools. She also leads the effort to kill school choice and strangle the charter school option.

If you want to make sure low-income families have a choice about their children’s schools, contact your state lawmakers and ask where they stand on saving Invest in Kids and charter schools.

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