Illinois lawmakers took steps toward enacting state supervision of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), including proposing a bill that would strip Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel of his authority over the government school district and would launch a financial investigation that could force the school system to acknowledge it has become insolvent.
Existing Illinois law permits the State Board of Education to block government school districts in financial distress from borrowing money. In February, state authorities launched an investigation into CPS’ finances, as the district works to find money to pay bills due in late June.
In January, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) announced his intention to place CPS under the supervision of a state panel, citing existing authorities’ continued inability to spend tax money responsibly or make fiscally manageable deals with local government teachers’ primary representative, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).
A Greater Battle for Chicago
Lennie Jarratt, project manager for education transformation at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says the dispute between Illinois lawmakers and CPS officials is part of a much bigger conflict.
“This is not only about control of CPS; it’s about control of Chicago itself,” Jarratt said. “As seen in the last mayoral election, the Chicago Teachers Union wants to take over City Hall. CTU doesn’t want to be held accountable for its failure to educate the children of the district.
“CPS, being the largest school district in the state, is a symbol of all that is wrong in Illinois: the overspending, high taxation, corruption, and the belief taxpayers are just an open wallet for their desires,” Jarratt said.
Jarratt says a state government takeover of CPS could be good for Chicago’s children.
“In the short term, given the political climate in Chicago and Illinois, the schools may improve with a state takeover,” Jarratt said. “There would probably be an increase in charter school options, for example, but the exodus [of residents] from Chicago and Illinois will unfortunately continue for the foreseeable future.”
Failure All Around
Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, says CPS’ leadership is failing children and teachers alike.
“You’ve got a system where the pensions weren’t funded, corruption exists, and even your superintendent is indicted,” Dabrowski said. “The teachers union ignores the finances of the school district and the people who pay taxes and is willing to strike two contracts in a row, and you have a mayor and a board that don’t know how to say ‘no’ to unions in order to preserve the fiscal stability of the school districts.”
Dabrowski says the failures of CPS’ adults are hurting the city’s children.
“It’s a battle between all the adults, and the victims are the children,” Dabrowski said. “They’re talking about who’s going to control the system, but what they should really be doing is talking about how to empower families so they’re the ones who have control, [rather than] the bureaucrats [or] the unions. The parents and children should have control in this, but that’s certainly not the case.”
‘The System Is Broken’
Dabrowski says the state should transfer power from government bureaucrats to Chicago parents.
“This situation just highlights how the system is broken, both financially and morally,” Dabrowski said. “What needs to happen is parents need to be given more control, direct control over the money that’s spent on their children, and [the state should] allow them more choices about where their children go to school.”
Dabrowski says public school choice is not enough; children should be allowed to exit Chicago’s failing government education monopoly altogether.
“I think we need to talk about vouchers and education savings accounts and really give parents the power to hold school districts accountable,” Dabrowski said. “There’s only one way we’re going to fix CPS, and that’s by putting the parents in charge and allowing them to exit the school system if their needs aren’t being met.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.