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CTU demands that Emanuel take down ‘false’ commercial touting early-childhood gains

The Chicago Teachers Union, parents and community advocates demanded Thursday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel pull a slick campaign commercial that they say makes false claims about his record on early childhood education.

The commercial boldly claims Emanuel is “fighting for pre-K access for every 4-year-old, no matter where they live.”

But at a City Hall news conference Thursday, the CTU claimed enrollment in early childhood programs has actually declined by 1,634 children over the last two years.

The union pointed to the mayor’s decision: to close a record 50 public schools; centralize enrollment, forcing parents to travel farther to sign up their kids; impose strict eligibility standards; implement a sliding scale of fees that could cost parents hundreds of dollars a month and offer a preponderance of half-day slots that leave working parents in the lurch.

“I had to go to 47th and State Street just to enroll my child in a school that was on 22nd and California. Now, how right is that? If pre-K is for all, how do you give us so many hurdles that’s unheard of to get the quality education for our children?” said Zerlina Smith, a local school council member at Saucedo Elementary and an elected representative to the Head Start Council.

“In black and brown communities, our mayor closed 50 schools that had early Head Start programs. That left us with only several to choose as parents, which is making them have 20-to-30 kids in a classroom. . . . Head Start is for all? All what kids? On the North Side? In black and brown communities, there are not enough resources.”

Jeanette Taylor, LSC chair at Mollison Elementary, 4415 S. King, noted that Emanuel has yet to meet with the families affected by his 50 school closings.

“I teach my children every day not to lie, but that’s awfully hard when our mayor stands in front of us every day and tells those lies,” Taylor said.

Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the CTU, added, “We don’t need a spin doctor-in-chief in the mayor’s office. We need an advocate-in-chief.”

The CTU endorsed mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia after its ailing president, Karen Lewis, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Emanuel’s campaign spokesman said Thursday’s press conference was “clearly a political ploy designed to confuse the public on the great advancements made.”

Within the last four years, 800 more children enrolled in the city’s pre-K programs, the number of full-day pre-K classrooms more than doubled and the percentage of children starting kindergarten ready to learn has nearly doubled, Steve Mayberry said in a statement.

“Mayor Emanuel is fighting every day to make sure all Chicago kids have the same access to a high quality education. And he is getting it done,” Mayberry said.

However, Acting CTU President Jesse Sharkey demanded that instead of making slick ads, Emanuel bankroll “truly universal day care and pre-school for all Chicago children,” by ending toxic swaps and tax incremental financing and by imposing a transaction tax on La Salle Street exchanges that is currently prohibited by state and federal law.

Last year, the City Council approved Emanuel’s plan to use $17 million from private investors to provide half-day early childhood education for 2,618 students amid hand-wringing about the windfall profits for investors.

The CTU, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois and their City Council allies likened the arrangement to the 75-year, $1.15 billion deal that privatized Chicago parking meters.

That’s because the $17 million loan — from the Goldman Sachs Social Impact Fund and Northern Trust as senior lenders and the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation as subordinates — includes a 6.3 percent interest rate that allows lenders to double their investment over 18 years provided academic outcomes improve.

“If I was at Goldman Sachs, I would be doing this, too,” said Ald. John Arena (45th), one of five aldermen who voted no.

“Financing it to the benefit of the financial community and using our children as collateral is not the way to do it.”

Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti (2nd) denounced the deal as “bad public policy that will haunt us forever.” That’s because it “allows the banking industry to place a sure bet on our kids’ futures for their own profit,” he said.

The parking meter comparison obviously stung.

After the vote, Emanuel rose from the rostrum to offer a spirited defense of a financing scheme that, he argued, will allow the city to target its neediest kids.

“I firmly believe kids start dropping out of [school] in third grade. And if you don’t catch ‘em early enough, it’s not like fourth grade gets easier,” the mayor said.

“We can all find a reason not to like this or that. I got it. . . . [But] we are now gonna have universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds from low-income families — the kids that need it the most and their parents will also receive educational support so what happens in the classroom is not lost at home. It’s reinforced.”

He added: ”I’m proud we’re doing something. Just not criticizing but taking action. I do not believe in wasting another generation . . . We’re taking a step — not debating it, deferring it, denying it . . . If it doesn’t work, [the lenders] end up holding the bag.”