Vouchers part of school talks, but Rahm would rather not talk about it

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his position on school vouchers is clear, and in the past he has said he prefers public-school choice. But an email exchange with Archbishop Blase Cupich indicates he’s willing to talk about the issue. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel dodged questions on school vouchers Thursday even as negotiations continue on a new statewide funding formula — talks that, at Gov. Bruce Rauner’s request, include vouchers.

Emanuel is clearly counting on an override of Rauner’s amendatory veto of a school funding bill, despite those negotiations.

Emanuel was asked where he stands on school vouchers before heading off to O’Hare for a flight to the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s meeting in New Orleans.

“My primary focus is on public education,” the mayor said.

Pressed on whether he opposes vouchers, Emanuel said, “I have a history and my record is clear as it relates to public education. And my record is clear as it relates to vouchers and using public money for private schools.”

That record includes answering a questionnaire when he was a candidate for mayor in 2011.

“I believe in school choice, but I believe that, given limited taxpayer dollars, we should be encouraging school choice through the public schools system. I am opposed to the voucher bill,” he wrote then, referring to one of many proposals that have been made over the years to create tax-funded vouchers that could be used to attend private schools.

The mayor’s private emails released to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information request show that Cardinal Blase Cupich at least had reason to believe the mayor was open to the subject of school vouchers being used for private schools.

It happened after Cupich learned that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was scheduling meetings with big-city mayors on the Trump administration education priorities.

“I am personally interested in the proposal to fund a $20 billion federal education tax credit as part of the federal tax reform. I am convinced that this could be an enormous boost to the Chicago schools and the thousands of parents who use our [Catholic] schools,” Cupich wrote to the mayor in mid-April.

“I am grateful that you understand the importance of school choice for poor families who see this as a viable way for the family to move out of poverty. In due time I would welcome a chance to discuss this with you and work with you to strengthen all of our schools.”

Cupich closed by wishing the mayor a “blessed Passover to you and the family.”

Emanuel replied: “Have a Good Friday. Of course we will discuss.”

The mayor’s communication director Adam Collins was asked why Cupich was under the impression that Emanuel was open to school vouchers.

“I don’t disclose private conversation, but [the mayor’s] position on this is clear,” Collins said.

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