A state takeover of Chicago Public Schools would be Gov. Bruce Rauner’s wildest fantasy come true, complete with an opportunity to take the school system into bankruptcy and break the teachers union he so loathes.
The governor sent forth the state’s two top Republican legislators Wednesday as his advance team to tout a proposal they characterized as offering a “lifeline” for Chicago.
But their proposal looked a lot more like the hostile takeover of CPS that Rauner has wanted to engineer even before he entered the race for governor.
Back then Rauner was an informal adviser to Mayor Rahm Emanuel on education issues, just another rich guy with the mayor’s ear, which he filled with his anti-union views. Now he’s acting like a guy with a firm grip on one of the mayor’s other body parts.
The question before us Wednesday was whether the governor is serious about his plan to allow the Illinois Board of Education to take control of Chicago’s school system and allow it to file for bankruptcy, or whether it is just another bargaining maneuver intended to ratchet up pressure on city Democrats to make a deal with Rauner on his Springfield agenda.
The answer may be both.
While Rauner bears no blame for putting CPS into its current financial fix, he definitely wants to use its problems — and the corresponding need for state help — as leverage to get what he wants from the Legislature.
In fact, it’s Rauner’s best hope for success at this point, which may explain why the governor seemed to jump the gun with Wednesday’s proposal, worried that the expected Chicago school collapse isn’t happening quite fast enough to suit his political needs.
With an $875 million borrowing plan in the works, coupled with possible headway in teacher contract negotiations, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool may be able to temporarily forestall the massive teacher layoffs that would bring the crisis to a head.
That would be doubly frustrating for Rauner, who fancies himself an education expert and really would like to call the shots on remolding Chicago schools, whose problems he blames on the teachers union.
Rauner complained to reporters Wednesday that Emanuel is “ready to back down and cave in to the teachers union” in contract talks. He even dredged up his old complaint that Emanuel “caved” during the 2012 teachers strike.
The scary part is that as Chicago school finances continue to deteriorate, the city may be left with few options to keep Rauner’s nose out from under the tent.
It’s not realistic to expect legislators outside Chicago to rescue the city’s schools without some say in how it’s spent. That’s unless help is found as well for their local school districts, many of which also are struggling. I just totally disagree with Rauner’s premise that the help those local districts really need is the ability to hamstring their teachers at the bargaining table.
Claypool argues persuasively that Chicago schoolchildren are shortchanged by a state funding system that pays for the pensions of Downstate and suburban teachers but leaves the responsibility for Chicago teacher pensions to its local taxpayers.
As Republicans keep pointing out, this arrangement is not new. But its effects have become untenable under the current reality of unwise pension promises of the past coming home to roost for both the state and city. It’s the catchup payment coming due for past pension obligations that has exacerbated the CPS funding situation.
The result is that when all school-related funding from the state is added together, including categories where CPS indeed gets preferential treatment, its students still end up on the short end of the stick.
Teacher pensions are as much a part of the cost of educating our children as teacher salaries, an inconvenient truth for Republicans at this time.
In an odd reversal, the governor also said he now supports an elected school board for Chicago to take over governing the schools after his “independent authority” finishes its work. In the past, Rauner said Chicago should be allowed to keep its mayoral-appointed board.
Of course, Rauner clarified that teachers unions would be limited in making campaign contributions to school board candidates, naturally making it easier for him and his rich friends to elect their preferred candidates.
As soon as Rauner drops his union fixation, it might be possible for him to finally get something accomplished.