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Kadner: Using education for political gain

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner his Chicago campaign headquarters Saturday.  |  JessicKoscielniak/Sun-Times

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner at his Chicago campaign headquarters on Saturday. | Jessica Koscielniak/Sun-Times

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Updated: March 6, 2014 6:54AM



Bruce Rauner sent his daughter to Walter Payton College Prep High School.

There have been a lot of news stories about that because Rauner contributed $250,000 to the high school, and some critics claim that the multimillionaire financier used clout to bypass the Chicago school’s highly selective enrollment process.

But Rauner chose a public school for his daughter, even if it is a very special, elite school.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose to send his children to a private school. Same with President Barack Obama and former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who sent his children to Catholic schools.

Thousands of other people, with the economic means to do so, have simply moved to the suburbs to get their children out of Chicago’s public school system.

I don’t blame any of them for their choices. Making sure your child gets the best education possible ought to be a priority for every parent.

The thing about politicians, especially those who hold elective office, is that they have a responsibility to make sure every child gets his or her best education.

An argument can be made that Chicago politicians have failed miserably on that score.

But so has the state of Illinois, where Michael Madigan is speaker of the House and a strong supporter of parochial schools.

Rauner, a Republican candidate for governor, has been touting his support for charter schools as an alternative to a traditional public education. He has boasted in TV commercials that he started charter schools as an alternative to public schools that were failing.

The Chicago Sun-Times points out that Rauner really doesn’t have much to do with running those schools — although he has contributed millions of dollars to the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which named one of its 14 high schools after him, and he’s on Noble’s board of directors.

I never thought Rauner actually taught in the schools, designed the curriculum or gave administrators daily direction.

Rauner has said he got involved in charter schools because he was “fed up” with failing schools.

“There’s no excuse,” Rauner has said, for a school to fail academically. “None. Period.”

He’s not the first candidate for office to make those sorts of statements, and given his involvement with charters, he has done more than a lot of other politicians who use education and schoolchildren to get votes.

President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education declared war on public education, basically saying that failing school systems, such as Chicago’s, would no longer be tolerated.

Either you think Chicago’s schools are better today or you don’t. I suppose Denver quarterback Peyton Manning could brag about scoring a touchdown against Seattle in the Super Bowl, but a 43-8 score clearly defines the outcome.

President George W. Bush signed a sweeping federal law in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act. It set new minimum academic standards and required all sorts of testing by the states, and some would say it has improved public education.

A controversial part of that law was designed to allow students in failing schools to attend better schools in other districts.

You never saw a rush of Chicago Public Schools students into the suburbs because that part of the law was never really enforced or financially supported. Local elected officials and suburban parents breathed a huge sigh of relief that it was not.

In Illinois, former state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, tried for years to get improved funding for public schools without success.

He threatened to run for governor at one point against Gov. Rod Blagojevich unless Blagojevich vowed to pass an income tax increase to support the schools. Blagojevich made the promise but never fulfilled it.

The Legislature passed a temporary 67 percent income tax increase, but the billions of dollars it has raised never were earmarked for public education. Most of the money went to plug the state’s multibillion-dollar debt.

Gov. Pat Quinn claims that he’s a pro-education governor, although under his administration Illinois ranks dead last in the nation in the state’s share of support for public education.

I mention all of this to point out a trend — politicians campaign promising to improve the public schools, but the results are almost always the same.

Charter schools are the latest trend, and there have been many success stories. Supporters rarely point out that charters attract motivated students and parents who really care about education.

Ask any school official and he or she will tell you that educating motivated children with involved parents is a much easier task than dealing with indifferent students and absentee parents.

Meeks, who eventually championed charter schools and vouchers, said he rather would see some children get a good education than none. He was primarily referring to the Chicago Public Schools system, not suburban school districts, which are often beloved by the people who use them.

Rauner hammers away at teacher unions, saying they are at fault for failing students. Yet, those unions are present in every successful suburban school district in Illinois.

Maybe schools could be run cheaper without teacher unions, but I don’t buy that unions necessarily mean worse schools. And I’ve always found it interesting that schools located in the wealthiest suburbs almost always pay their unionized teachers top dollar.

It seems to me those school districts, like the one in Winnetka, where Rauner owns a house, could clearly demonstrate that money doesn’t matter by paying their teachers less than any other school system in the state.

The students likely would still do well because they come from homes with tremendous advantages and where education is valued highly.

But I understand why they don’t want to experiment with their kids’ lives, just as I understand why Rauner, Emanuel, Obama and Daley made the choices they did.

It’s always other people’s children who are the guinea pigs, the ones who can’t get their kids into schools like Payton College Prep.



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