Last week, the Tribune's Eric Zorn complained about the news that an outside group spent $1 million producing and airing a video featuring Mayor Emanuel. Just now, the parent group Illinois Raise Your Hand sent out an email making much the same point, focusing on calls, emails, and ads from the same group (see below).
Sure, in a perfect world all possible resources would go towards direct services and programs, but this is far from that world and I think it's naive or disingenuous to pretend that just one side is doing it. Let's have an honest accounting of how much money both sides are spending, and chide both of them for their wastefulness.
As in political campaigns going on around the country, there are outside groups on both sides, both spending lots of money trying to convince the public, parents, and politicians of the value of their views.
How much did "outside groups" like the NEA, AFT, IFT, and IEA send to Chicago to help support strike-related efforts? (Last year, the AFT spent roughly $8 million on outside advocacy, according to a union watchdog site).
How much did CTU spend on organizing and running the strike, as well as the radio ads it ran? (What does it do with all that dues money, anyway? Wouldn't that be better spent on kids in schools?)
Sorry, that was mean. What I mean to say is sure, let's track how much is being spent by outside groups on influencing the path of CPS. And yes, it's a shame that there's so much money being spent on things other than kids and books. But let's track both sides' spending, and, well, get off our high horses. They're tired, they need a break.
War: The Best Route to Public Schools?
Parents have been emailing us for a few weeks asking us how someone got a hold of their personal cell phone numbers and email addresses. As Jill Wohl explained in her blog, “What happens in CPS stays in CPS,” the group that invited parents to a rally during the strike was an arm of the national group, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), started by hedge-fund managers and charter-school operators in New York. We have no idea how they obtained personal information of parents.
DFER arrived in Chicago the Spring of 2012 and quickly partnered with Stand For Children to help work on getting the reforms legislated in SB7 passed. SB7 is the state law that Stand For Children helped marshal through in Spring of 2011, after coming to town and meeting with legislators instead of parents, and making a lot of campaign contributions in the process.
RYH organized a rally last Spring to ask for more resources to accompany the longer day and DFER showed up. While at City Hall, they came in and presented a stack of petitions to the mayor’s office in support of the longer day. When we asked a DFER staff member what they advocated for in terms of the content of the day, we couldn’t get an answer. Another staff member asked me if I was “from Mt. Greenwood,” which I later learned is some kind of code for “Union” area.
This summer, tensions ran high between CPS and CTU as we all know. DFER put out endless radio ads telling the teachers to “get back to the table,” even though cps/ctu were negotiating all summer. During the strike, they paid for daily ads about the CTU and then this week they paid a million dollars for an ad for the Mayor.
We have no idea the amount of money that this group that sent out emails to parents to get them to join “Power of Parents Rally” spent, but we are very sure that the majority of parents out there would have preferred that the money be spent in the classroom for their children.
We also have no idea why a group of hedge-fund managers from NY is trying to run public policy in Chicago. They have a right to their opinion but they clearly have no idea what’s happening in our school system.
Some in the media might suggest these questions are pro-Union.
In addition, last week, one of the Mayor’s main advisors, Bruce Rauner, was on the show Chicago Tonight. On the show he said that we should blow up the district and create smaller regions of charter and contract schools. He added that the tragedy in Chicago is that parents don’t know how bad their schools are and they think their teacher being a pleasant person is enough.
These kinds of statements are highly offensive and potentially dangerous – especially when the people making them have a massive amount of money to run PR campaigns and make campaign contributions. Bruce Rauner said, “This is war,” on Chicago Tonight.
Most parents don’t want a war. They want a district that’s looking out for all children, that is capable of collaboration. We can’t assume that the Mayor agrees with his friend Mr. Rauner but it would be nice to hear his views. We have been trying to get a meeting with him all year to no avail.
What does all of this mean? It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a debate about teacher evaluation or longer days or anything else. It does mean that it’s very important to know who you’re getting an invite to a rally from and what that group’s intentions are. And when you hear about people who want to “blow up the district” and claim to be talking for parents, you better start paying attention.
For parents, there is and has been an ongoing battle for some time – having a voice in education policy and putting resources in the classroom so that our children in Chicago can have a dignified school day with the classes and supports they need to thrive. We have seen $800 million in cuts to education in IL since 2008. We are now ranked the lowest in the nation in terms of what our state contributes to education. We are not going to let our eye off the ball on that number anytime soon. While DFER and certain “reformers” are cooking up plans to privatize much of our district, we better get to work fast on changing that course for our kids.
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