Our Pledge To You


Preckwinkle education agenda: four-year freeze on charters and school closings

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle participates in a live Election Night stream from the Sun-Times newsroom on November 6, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle participates in a live Election Night stream from the Sun-Times newsroom on November 6, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday rolled out an education agenda that includes a “fully-elected” school board, a freeze on new charter schools and public school closings for the four years until that board is seated and “real progressive revenue” to bolster neighborhood schools.

Preckwinkle was asked whether the “real progressive revenue” she seeks would include the so-called “LaSalle Street tax” on financial exchanges long favored by the Chicago Teachers Union, whose endorsement she covets.

“Frankly, that’s not something that I’m prepared to talk now. What I’ve talked about is a progressive income tax, which I’ve been committed to for a long time, and the TIF surplus legislation,” she said.

“The city can’t impose a city income tax. So, it makes much more sense to have a progressive tax at the state level.”

Preckwinkle wants the annual TIF surplus earmarked exclusively for CPS, instead of giving city government a cut of that money. That would continue until all 144 TIFs are abolished, if she is elected mayor.

“About a third of our property taxes go into TIF districts. We’ve really got to look at unwinding as many of those TIFs as we possibly can and turning the resources back to Chicago Public Schools,” she said.

The CTU has repeatedly demanded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel dig deeper into TIF revenues–even after using a record $87.5 million TIF surplus to stave off another teachers strike.

Emanuel’s final budget includes a $175 TIF surplus that generated $42 million for the city and $96.9 million for CPS.

For years, bills calling for an elected school board in Chicago have drawn overwhelming support in advisory referendums, but stalled in Springfield amid opposition from Emanuel and his predecessor, former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Both mayors did not want to lose control over the schools. Nor were they interested in injecting elective politics into CPS for fear it would slow momentum for their pet education programs.

On Tuesday, Preckwinkle declared her support for a “fully-elected” school board.

She accused the appointed board of skipping a decade of pension payments, awarding “bloated and ineffective, no-bid contracts” and presiding over successive scandals that landed former Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in prison and forced the resignation of her successor.

Until the new board is elected in 2023, Preckwinkle said she would impose a four-year “freeze” on both new charters and public school closings.

That would stop, what she called the “corporate privatization of our public schools” that has allowed “profiteering” charter school corporations to impose “troubling disciplinary practices,” marginalize special needs students and pay their CEO’s “ten times” what teacher are paid, she said.

“I’d like to have a very thorough analysis of performance in the charter schools in the way that our neighborhood public schools are analyzed for performance. Same standards…A number of charters would close if that was done,” she said.

The Chicago Public Schools have 150,000 more seats than students. Much of that excess capacity is located in South and West Side neighborhoods hard hit by a black exodus from the city.

Pressure is building for another round of school closings now that a five-year moratorium has expired.

But Preckwinkle justified extending that moratorium until 2023 by questioning the math used to calculate empty seats.

“I am very suspicious of the number of 150,000 excess seats…I don’t think they have reasonable class size standards,” said Preckwinkle, a former school teacher.

“If you have unrealistic expectations about how many kids should be in a classroom and you say there aren’t 30-plus kids in the classroom, therefore the school is under-utilized, that’s ridiculous. You have to have reasonable standards for class size and apply them to our schools, especially our elementary schools.”

Preckwinkle said it’s “not enough” to promise another moratorium on schools closings. CPS needs to “secure a long-term funding resource” to bankroll “real investments” in “chronically under-funded” neighborhood schools.

She vowed to rebuild starved neighborhood schools and bolster support services to serve the “significant number of students who experience violence in our neighborhoods and families.”

“We have dis-invested, particularly in our neighborhood schools, for more than a decade in ways that have been profoundly detrimental to the city,” she said.

“We’ve got to invest in neighborhood public schools. That would be my priority….Not simply in teachers, but in social workers, in nurses, in para-professionals that help make the schools work.”