Johnson’s education plan includes free CTA rides, City Colleges tuition for CPS students

“Why are we making children pay for a ride to get to a school that’s not in their neighborhood?” Johnson asked. “Children should be able to focus on learning and not trying to figure out how they’re gonna get a ride to school.”

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A rider boards a CTA bus at Western and Belden avenues.

A rider boards a CTA bus at Western and Belden avenues.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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The CTA would waive fares year-round for Chicago Public School students, City Colleges would be tuition-free and run by an elected board, and child care would be free, under an ambitious education plan unveiled Wednesday by mayoral challenger Brandon Johnson.

A former teacher and Chicago Teachers Union organizer, Johnson delivered his innovative ideas during a revival-style address to the City Club of Chicago that brought his luncheon audience to their feet, chanting his name.

Johnson, a Cook County commissioner, did not put a dollar figure on the proposed parade of freebies, though he already has announced a tax-the-rich plan to bankroll $1 billion in new spending on public schools, transportation, housing, health care and job creation.

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The proposal to waive CTA fares for CPS students comes at a perilous time. The transit agency is carrying only half its pre-pandemic ridership, in part because the system is viewed as unsafe and unreliable without enough bus drivers and rail employees to operate its full schedule.

Fare box revenues are supposed to cover half of expenses, but now cover just 18% of overall spending.

Several mayoral challengers have predicted the CTA is in danger of “going bankrupt” when federal stimulus money now propping up the system runs out.

That doesn’t deter Johnson.

“Why are we making children pay for a ride to get to a school that’s not in their neighborhood? That’s why my proposal is very simple: CTA should be free for every single child. Children should be able to focus on learning and not trying to figure out how they’re gonna get a ride to school,” Johnson said.

When Chicago Housing Authority high-rises were demolished, children were “still coming back to Cabrini Green because that was the neighborhood they were familiar with,” Johnson said. Some “took two buses and a train and the oldest was 12, caring for their siblings,” he said.

“Do you understand how jacked up that is as an economy, where babies have to hitchhike to get to school? We’re gonna change that in a Johnson administration,” he said.

The Chicago Avenue stop on the CTA’s Brown Line.

The Chicago Avenue stop on the CTA’s Brown Line.

Sun-Times

The same philosophy is behind Johnson’s plan to waive City Colleges tuition and make child care free for all working parents.

Illinois could “fund free child care for all” and still provide “living wages and benefits” for child care workers, “if corporations paid what they owned in taxes,” his education plan states.

Johnson also promised to deliver “full funding” for bi-lingual and special education and make every school a “sustainable community school” with a full array of after-school activities, social workers and counselors to treat the “trauma that students and their families” in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods experience every day.

His community school concept also includes “violence prevention and interruption” plans with “stronger and clearer immediate day of protocols after a violent incident” and on the day after an outbreak occurs.

“I’m running for mayor ... to finally give the people of Chicago a guarantee. Guaranteed access to public health care. Guaranteed access to reliable transportation. Guaranteed access to a fully-funded neighborhood school. Guaranteed access to child care. Guaranteed access to a safe city. A better Chicago is possible, y’all. We can do it,” Johnson said, pounding the podium, his voice rising like a preacher, as his audience rose to their feet.

“People say we can’t win. I’m here to tell you, we brought [an elected] school board. We brought civilian oversight over policing. We fought to end privatization. And we’re gonna finally have a mayor who believes in public accommodations — that no matter where you are, the city of Chicago is gonna be better, brighter, stronger, safer under a Johnson administration.”

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