Vallas: School choice and the hypocrisy of Chicago Teachers Union leaders

Vallas: School choice and the hypocrisy of Chicago Teachers Union leaders

According to the Chicago Teachers Union leadership, supporters of school choice for poor children are fascists and racists. What does it say when four out of 10 CTU teachers send their children to private schools, including CTU President Stacy Davis Gates?

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates reportedly now sends one of her three children to a private high school in Chicago. Should this be surprising?

Nope. Union bosses have always been able to secure alternatives to their neighborhood schools for their own children – either by using their clout to gain access to magnet or selective enrollment schools or by using their big union salaries to send their kids to private schools. This was the case with former CTU President Jesse Sharkey and former CTU executive and lobbyist and now-Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.

CTU leaders are not unique, though. While nationally 11% of all parents enroll their school-age children in private schools, for public-school teachers it’s 20% – or almost twice the average. In large cities, the percentages are far greater. In Chicago, at least 39% of public-school teachers send their students to private school. What does it say when nearly 4 out of 10 Chicago public school teachers will pay money so their children don’t have to attend a public school in the district in which they teach? It says, loud and clear, that a large percentage of public-school teachers are giving public education a failing grade and they understandably want better for their children.

So why would they deny that choice to low-income families?

This isn’t a criticism of the decision to send a child to an alternative school. Parents must seek what’s best for their children. What’s offensive is teachers union leaders denying better educational choices for parents who, unlike Davis Gates, have neither the resources nor the connections to find better alternatives for their children to the failing and often unsafe neighborhood public school. Davis Gates and the CTU have been adamant opposers of Illinois’ Invest in Kids scholarship program, which provides 9,600 students access to a private school that best fits their unique needs. They have been fighting to let it sunset at the end of 2023.

Even worse, union leaders such as Davis Gates and her supporters relentlessly attack school choice advocates, calling them fascists and racists. Recall her latest comments in South Side Weekly, where she warned of fascism encroaching in Chicago and the marginalization of public education, particularly for Black individuals. This stance is clearly aimed at supporters of school choice including supporters of public charter schools.

Is Davis Gates really equating parents seeking an education for their kids outside of traditional public schools with dictators seeking autocratic control? That’s offensive. Plus, if she really believes that, what does that make her?

In Davis Gates’ public posturing, those pushing for the expansion of the Invest in Kids tax-credit scholarship program are the supposed encroaching fascists and racists. Come on, Stacy. Let’s be honest with folks. This is about power. It should be about what’s best for children. You made your decision on the child front yet seek to eliminate the decision for others, especially those who most need options?

CTU leadership has led the effort to end Illinois’ very modest school choice program. If Davis Gates is successful in killing the tax-credit scholarship program, Illinois would the first state in the country to eliminate an existing parental choice program. Meanwhile, the program costs the state a maximum of $75 million in annual tax credits – although it has averaged about $50 million a year – or less than 1% of annual state spending on K-12 public education. By contrast, state funding for K-12 public schools has risen by $1.6 billion since Invest in Kids started in 2017, with almost all new funding going to districts with high percentages of students from low-income families.

One would think the well-documented, strong performance of parochial and other private schools would compel the Illinois General Assembly to not only extend the successful Invest in Kids scholarship program, but also make it permanent and even expand it. Instead, state leaders continue to bow to the self-serving whims of the same teachers union bosses who wreaked havoc on the lives and future prospects of our children, especially during the pandemic.

Davis Gates and her supporters’ hostility towards school choice advocates extends even to non-profit public charter schools. CTU’s arbitrary cap on the number of charter schools and even individual charter school enrollment is a blatant attempt to restrict choices and opportunities for students. This cap even extends to state-authorized charters to provide alternative schools for older students who dropped out or have been incarcerated. This is egregious considering about 45,000 teens and young adults are not in school and are unemployed.

It’s clear CTU is hypocritical in choosing private education options for their own children while denying the same to low-income families, mainly Black and Latino. CTU efforts obstruct opportunities for these families to access quality education, even within the realm of public charter schools. But for the likes of Stacy Davis Gates, her attitude seems to be, “I’ve got mine.”

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