Money Better Spent?

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. Indeed, some parents have asked us if RYH is formally aligned with the union over the past few weeks. The simple answer is that while we do respect and have a natural alliance on many items with our teachers, we are a parent group. And one that does not want hedge-fund managers from NY or anywhere else making policy in a vacuum for children in Chicago.  We want parents, teachers, community education professors, business people, and all parties at the table making policy. The amount of money that is going into ads from outside groups to sway the collective mindset is beyond disturbing.

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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    Super weak argument. Teachers are not outside groups. Hedge fund managers are. We WERE spending the money on the kids. Just a different way from how we do in the classrooms everyday.

    Furthermore this idea that $1 million spent from $1 from 1 million people is the same as a billionaire cutting a check for $1 million is probably the single worst thing in the country right now.

    That's right, you are supporting the worst thing in the country.


  • In reply to Xian Barrett:

    Alex links to it below, but let's push it up. Here's your unions spending money on ALEC and other conservative, corporate Republicans who object to RTTT and NCLB not because of the kids, but because of their long standing racist agenda over state's rights. Probably the single worst thing in the country right now.

    That's right, your dues are supporting the single worst thing in the country right now so that you can protect your job and prevent even a basic level accountability from being established to ensure that poor kids can have teachers who are actually and demonstrably good at what they do.


  • super weak attempt at mangling my argument. teachers aren't outside groups, but national unions are. they're spending gobs of money just like the reform groups. you contribute -- way more than a dollar, by the way -- but you don't really have any control over what they're doing with the money (or weren't doing, in the case of wisconsin).

    there are lots of great arguments for unions, and lots of good things that they do. denying that they spend money to get their views expressed, or arguing that the money they spend is somehow different from the money others spend, is just not the most compelling or believable case to be made.


  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Alex, time for you to tap-out. Xian has gotcha here. Yup, vote 'em out that is how democracy works. Majority vote rules, just like the CTU vote to suspend the strike and unlike the 75% threshold required by the DEMOCRAT*-sponsored SB 7. Remember, Karen Lewis didn't make the decision to authorize or suspend the strike, CTU membership did. As far as political contributions go, I'm pretty sure Randi or Karen can't single-handedly dole out union $ to the candidate of their choice with no oversight.

    *The same democrats who are larded with big money from private foundations, Super PACs, weird astroturf organizations (usually with names that pimp "students", "children", etc) and other undemocratic institutions.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    not at all -- i'm controlling the octagon, all the judges say so.

    you point to democratic moments in the process but leave out the larger decisions that aren't voted on by the rank and file and the larger larger decisions not even influenced by the local.

    anyway, this post is about outside money and xian pretty much agreed that there was outside money coming in from both sides below. he just thinks that outside union money is special.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Ugh... I used to really like you Alex... but you've changed. I think we're going to have to break-up... you're nothing but a blogster with an addiction to website hits.

    Be careful, those 'roids Rahm and the reformers are giving you might help you in the short-term as far as the blogtagon goes, but they can't be good for your career as a journalist.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Demanding 100% direct democracy is a super-duper weak argument. Unions are democratic and hence are subject to oversight. Super PACs and private $ has no democratic oversight.

    Tap-out NOW or the fingers you blog with will get snapped like twigs.*

    *I'm speaking figuratively... although you do deserve an old-school ruler-rap on the knuckles.

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    We have democratic control over what they are doing. Is that the same as a Super PAC or private foundation?

  • In reply to Xian Barrett:


  • you agree with what CTU and the AFT and NEA are doing right now so it feels like you have democratic control, but i'm not sure that's as true as it might seem. democratic yes -- control? i don't know. if randi or dennis or even karen did something you didn't like -- gave to a republican candidate, which has been happening here and there in recent cycles -- your only recourse would be what, to vote KJL out of office the next time she came up.

    anyway, my main point was just that both sides are spending lots of money, and lots of it comes from outside chicago -- and neither side's money is going directly to kids and classrooms. you want to argue about who's money is more virtuous, that's fine.

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    In reply to Alexander Russo:

    I don't agree with my national leadership, nor do I agree with everything our local leadership does. I agree with more of it because I was part of a long hard battle to properly use the democracy available in the teachers union rather than denigrate democracy and call it equivalent to oligarchy.

    I can't tell if you are being intentionally obtuse or you really don't know the history or current reality of the union you are commenting on. I can't tell if you are being intentionally obtuse or you don't understand what might be good about a fair electoral process versus someone pulling out a giant checkbook and buying a process.

    And again, our money is going directly to the classrooms. Anytime you feel like making it an even playing field, get out your checkbook and write my kids a check.

  • In reply to Xian Barrett:

    Xian, you seem so nice and genuine, but you are so naieve. I do enjoy your idealisitc one sided POV.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    Xian, "naive"? He's got more frontline urban education experience and results than most, from what I can see.

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    In reply to district299reader:

    Yes, my experience, record and understanding are easily dismissed compared to your record of ??????????

  • Alex- How very "fair and balanced of you." Perhaps you could have provided equal coverage of of parental support for teachers. 'member that anti-CTU "parent" protest you featured last week? Y'know, the one that consisted of a half-dozen parents. Maybe you could have given some ink to the 19th ward, KOCO, and other parents who came out in 20 times the number in support of CTU. Wouldn't that have been an "honest accounting" of both sides.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    the mainstream media was doing a fine job covering the strike and its supporters -- i'm always looking for what's not being talked about. next time that everyone's focused on city hall and CPS, i'll be looking at the holes in their arguments and the angles that aren't getting covered there.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    I saw nary a mention of 19th Ward parents of KOCO during the strike.

    Looking for "what's not being talked about" is one thing, giving unequal coverage to some tiny gaggle of quirky upper crust white parents is another thing. C'mon, you didn't say sheet about their professionally made signs, poorly acted convo and obviously scripted talking points. You didn't mention that one of the "parents" was a VP for Lurie Investments. You ignored parent and student support for teachers that occurred at most schools.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    We have parents in our group from about 400 CPS schools, not all active at the same level though. Still around 70% north/northwest side, and the rest south/west. Our Assistant Director is from Austin. I do like the "tiny gaggle of quirky upper crust white parents" descprition, though. Nice writing. We meet with KOCO, 19th ward and about 11 other community groups a few times a month, too. I think Alex's question is fair, although the issue I was getting at was that there is lack of transparency when these groups are reaching out to parents. Everyone knows who the ctu is. DFER is not telling anyone what they are about. It's not just the money they spend, it's that they claim to represent parents yet they came to town with an agenda set by a group of guys on Wall Street. They have every right to spend money as a PAC. They shouldn't pretend to be anything other than that, though.

  • top two recipients of IEA money so far this year are... republicans, one of whom has tea party connections, according to this NYT story

    tell me again that this isn't outside money. or rather, tell that to the democratic candidates who they're running against, and the democratic teachers who could end up repped by union-funded republicans.


  • This debate is beside the point. Citizens United is a given for the moment, and unions are too (for the moment). I don't think the Rahm Emmanuel commercials are helping him or his backers very much. On the contrary, they provide an opportunity for the kinds of criticism Zorn makes. At the same time, I think the fact that someone has millions of dollars to spend instantly on something this seemingly pointless does point to the possibility that they are spending a lot more money in more effective ways to promote their ends more directly. And it would surprise me greatly--as I am sure it would Zorn--were these donor-investors to be at all interested in putting any of their money into unionized public schools. So the criticism is, in that sense, as disingenuous as the ads. The ads are moral-boosters for the push to privatize, not celebrations of the mayor's improvements in the public schools. And the criticism of the ads is meant to strike political blows against the mayor, who is the privatizer-in-chief.

  • I find this to be a better, more productive discussion about money and education:

  • In reply to jildo:

    gak. barkan's case is super exaggerated, as i explain in this post, "the myth of the all powerful billionaires"

  • Plus this thing has gone viral:

  • In reply to jildo:

    5,000 signatures is barely viral, and what about the ads from CTU and other union supporters? include them and i'll sign, too.

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    From what I can see, Carl--an individual without access to a massive marketing machine-- put it up last night. 5,000 signatures in less than 24 hours is pretty much the definition of viral.

    Your funders are showing.

  • In comparison, a petition mounted and powered by the well heeled Stand for Children several weeks ago has 1,566 signatures

  • Continue to support the plutocracy! There is no question that the American Pie is not cut evenly. Those with big dollars have unequal access and the ear of our mayor. Buying democracy lately?

  • In reply to urbanteach:

    Karen Lewis, your special interest leader, chose to give up her access to the mayor.

    You know the mayor, the guy who was democratically elected by people not protecting their jobs.

  • In reply to Donn:

    I think the mayor made that choice when he told her "F*ck You Lewis".

  • In reply to teachervoice:

    Oh Donn, so nice to hear from you! It is always great to hear the ramblings of the status quo.. big money interests. I guess we will just have to disagree as is the usual case. So, Hedge Fund Manager Ravenel Boykin Curry IV and his wife Celerie Kemble Curry (who paid for Rahm's ad) are all about democracy and Karen Lewis, former Chemistry teacher and city resident and democratically elected union leader are all about special interests. Wow, I am never not amazed by the insight.

  • In reply to teachervoice:

    "F U Lewis" is just Rahm's way of saying hello. I've started using it myself as a greeting. It's a great conversation starter.

    Rahm's learning his job. He may or may not figure out how to manage prudent school reform. Reading KL op-eds, she just doubling down on whatever seems to be working with her supporters at the moment. Does the union have any practical ideas other than more pay, job protection, and minimal instructional hours? No.

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    In reply to Donn:

    I don't agree with everything in this report, but clearly you are either ill-informed, or intentionally fabricating.

  • In reply to Donn:

    I don't know how any of you ctu members think that your union is a democracy. It has a closed membership. Where was my vote?! I didn't get to vote against Karen Lewis because I'm not a teacher and don't have the requisite special interest in protecting my job, getting a raise, funds for my school, etc, etc, etc. The union is an organization that operates democratically, but that doesn't make it inherently better or worse than any other special interest group or super pac that organizes around benefitting a group of actors, be they corporations, teachers, charter school operators, wall street investors, building contractors. In fact... omg, unions donate to super pacs!

    If you want to insist your union is a democracy while retaining exclusionary voting policies, well, geez, in that fantasy world, the pre-1960s south was a democracy too.

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    In reply to Donn:

    I'm glad to see that you think educators are a special interest group to label and show disdain for in true reactionary fashion.

    We had a far higher percentage of the total eligible voters than he did, and the winning side spent far less money, nearly none from outside interests.

    Your idol was elected on North Shore money.

    As for protecting our jobs, that's just a tired anti-union talking point that shows you don't believe in democracy.

  • The idea that the teachers' strike in Chicago did not have implications for the entire nation I think is unrealistic. Therefore many organizations beyond Chicago have interest in what has happened here. Mayor Emanuel got funding for his commercials because on a national scale there are organizations, some funded by Republicans and some by right leaning Democrats, that would like to see unions in the public education sector defeated and transformed into associations for the improvement of educational outcomes. The AFT and NEA have an interest in using Chicago as an example of what can go wrong when the accountability agenda is taken to an extreme and the inherent ability of a union to bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions is restrained by laws like SB7.

    Chicago is a battle ground also for forces that support moving towards a market based educational system that is driven by competition between schools for children whether they are traditional or charter schools. This was clearly articulated by Mr. Rauner several times and at several different venues in the last two weeks. Mayor Emanuel supports some if not most of Mr. Rauner's perspectives in relation to educational competition. We should stop decrying outside involvement in Chicago's current education wars. Instead we should embrace this battle and when necessary take sides.

    I personally can't tell you how much I like Bruce Rauner, he is like a breath of fresh air saying what is privately believed by many of the Chicago metro areas most powerful and wealthy individuals. When the media is openly stating as a fact that 120 to 180 schools will be closed and that they may be replaced by an unknown number of charter schools, presumably far fewer than 120 - but who really knows, then we are actually getting down to something material to fight over.

    Stand for Children's biggest deception in my opinion was when they argued that the problem with unions and certain state laws they did not like is that they were about adults and not children. All of education policy is about adults, it's about things like what the future workforce will be trained to do, about the allocation of public resources in terms of how much goes to the educational workforce in wages/benefits and how much goes into programs be they charter schools, bricks and mortar, class sizes in traditional schools, the amount spent on more severely disabled students or high end gifted students, and on and on. To reduce the argument to ideas like education is for the kids and not the adults is really absurd and dishonest.

    People have to get ready to roll in the dirt over the kind of issues that are coming and they should not be ashamed to defend their self interests. Some community based organizations may decide not to fight individual school closings within a geographically defined area, but rather try to create a rational compromise with the Mayor and CPS if that is possible. The CTU may elect to fight every school closing or not depending on an analysis of the impact or lack thereof on its membership. I know I will want to know where are the programs for more severely disabled children, generally self contained programs, with lower teacher to student ratios located in under enrolled schools going to go. I want a better definition of under enrollment that includes providing normal sized classrooms for severely disabled students rather than so called B sized rooms.

    I like the fact that our Mayor wants to propagandize over the idea that demographics is not destiny for student's outcomes, yet he is the Mayor of a city renowned for its racial/social economic divisions, and he chose to not send his own children to a local elementary school that did not meet state AYP reading and math standards and is 63.1% low income with 61.4% Black and Hispanic students in favor of a private school which charges between $23,526 and $26,520 in tuition a year or about half the median annual household income of a Chicagoan.

    He made a choice many middle class parents living in the city have made and it reflects the reality of the city he governs.
    It not about opposing outsiders coming in or Astroturf groups landing here, all are welcome to this fight. School wars have been declared here in Chicago and that is just the way it is. So let's all accept this situation for what it is, take sides, in some cases both sides and get on with it.

    Rod Estvan

  • I'm on Team Rod.

  • Thank you, Rod. This is excellent advice. Can I share this on the RYH website?

  • Rod, I like a lot of what you say. But you too should be balanced.

    "To reduce the argument to ideas like education is for the kids and not the adults is really absurd and dishonest."

    I agree completely with the above quote and you should add that this angel is exactly what the CTU promoted during the contract negotiations and strike. You are right, it was NOT about the kids. Of course, you can "take a side" as you suggest.

  • "You are right, it was NOT about the kids."

    I think you just over-simplified what Rod was saying and the CTU message during the negotiations. Really, the kids have no power. It's adults acting on their behalf, or not.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    Actually, I am not over-simplifying, I am simply applying the same concept to all stakeholders with CTU being one of the most powerful. It was not about the kids as Rod points out.

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