A report released in January by the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) inspector general shows rampant corruption and misbehavior among government school teachers and administrations in the district.
The audit detailed incidents of government school employees illegally using taxpayer-funded resources to campaign for political causes, stealing from taxpayer-funded accounts intended for purchasing student materials, and abusing educational discounts to buy Three Stooges DVDs for personal entertainment. Other citations include documentation of government school teachers using illegal drugs with students and committing sexual acts with minors in the classroom.
Too Big to Function
Lennie Jarratt, project manager for education transformation at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says the public school system has little incentive to change.
“There is nothing that will clean up Chicago schools in their current form,” Jarratt said. “When a bureaucracy becomes too big, corruption becomes inevitable. The system has no reason to change as long it remains funded.”
Jarratt says the only way to fix the problem is to break the government’s monopoly on education.
“The solution is to put parents completely in charge of the purse strings,” Jarratt said. “This can be done via an education savings account being started for each child. Then the parent can choose the school he or she wants a child to attend. This would be the best accountability system ever implemented. Schools would no longer tolerate bad behavior of teachers or administrators stealing from the taxpayers, because they would rapidly lose their students and the money tied to them. Fund the child, not the bureaucracy.”
Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, says those at the top of CPS should be held responsible for the district’s problems.
“A lot of these individual items exemplify or capture the dysfunction we see in the Chicago Public Schools,” Dabrowski said. “I think the problem is the corruption. We have a superintendent who has been indicted and faces serious allegations of fraud. It starts at the top, so it’s not unreasonable to expect bad behavior at lower levels.”
Dabrowski says government schools have little reason to improve, because the parents, who are the customers when it comes to education, are forced to make their children consume a product, regardless of that product’s quality.
“This is the biggest issue of Chicago Public Schools: those families that don’t have the means to send their kids to another school or to move or to find another alternative to CPS,” Dabrowski said. “They’re trapped. They can’t hold the school accountable. They can’t hold the administrators accountable. They’re forced to accept bad behavior from the districts, bad financial behavior, and bad educational outcomes, because parents have no other choice.”
Glimmer of Hope
Dabrowski says school choice provides some hope for Chicago parents and children, but there could be more.
“They have some school choice in Chicago, but it’s limited, and some lucky children get to participate, but the fact is the majority are still forced … to go to schools that don’t meet their needs,” Dabrowski said. “This is why it’s so important to have school choice, because that would put the power in the hands of the parent, allowing them to choose whatever school is best for them. And if those public schools didn’t fit their needs, they could go somewhere else.”
Kimberly Morin ([email protected]) writes from Brentwood, New Hampshire.
Office of Inspector General for the Chicago Board of Education, “Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2015”: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/annual-report-fiscal-year-2015/