Reeder: Quinn makes intriguing choice for running mate
By Scott Reeder firstname.lastname@example.org November 12, 2013 9:38PM
Updated: December 14, 2013 6:07AM
Last week, Gov. Pat Quinn picked a running mate who is not afraid to poke a government union boss in the political eye.
To be honest, I was surprised that Quinn picked Paul Vallas as his choice for lieutenant governor. After all, Quinn seems to have a love-hate relationship with public employee unions.
At election time in 2010, he was pandering to their every need. But during his time in office, he’s been saddled with the voracious appetites of his erstwhile political allies and a cash-strapped state government that can’t afford to pay for everything the unions desire.
One could call Quinn’s political marriage to union bosses rocky at best. That said, I anticipate they will endorse Quinn again.
What alternative do they have? Endorse a Republican? Dream on.
That’s why Quinn’s choice of Vallas is so intriguing.
Vallas is one of the biggest champions of charter schools in the nation. He was head of New Orleans public schools, where he is largely credited with turning around the school district after Hurricane Katrina.
The Louisiana Legislature created a special recovery school district that encouraged competition and the principles of free enterprise to reinvigorate one of America’s worst school systems.
And Vallas aggressively used charter schools to improve education outcomes.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are freed of some of the regulations that apply to other public schools in exchange for some accountability for producing certain academic results, which are set forth in each school’s charter.
Teachers at charter schools can choose to join a union but often don’t. That doesn’t sit too well with some union bosses, who would just as soon have every public school teacher in the state contributing dues to the union treasury.
In fact, Karen Lewis, who heads the Chicago Teachers Union, is not happy about Quinn’s choice of a running mate.
She was quoted in the newspapers as condemning Vallas for his penchant for standardized tests and charter schools and noted that this led to some longtime teachers losing their jobs.
Like most parents, I don’t care how long my kids’ teachers have had their jobs, just how well they do them. And charter schools have proven to be a boon for students.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper reported that during Vallas’ tenure as head of the city’s school district, the proportion of failing schools dropped from 65 percent during the 2007-08 school year to about 35 percent last school year.
And about three-quarters of the schools in the Crescent City are charter schools.
But in many cities across the country, students don’t have as much choice when it comes to their education. Too often, public schoolchildren find themselves trapped in a failing system.
Parents with the money, the skills or the time can choose private school options or home schooling. But what about the rest?
Charter schools are a terrific option for parents to consider.
Unfortunately, public union bosses have been using their clout in Springfield to slow down the expansion of charter schools across the Prairie State.
With Vallas entering the political fray, one can’t help but be encouraged that a candidate with a proven history in education choice will be contributing to the debate.
That’s not to say I’m in agreement with Vallas on all, or even most, issues. But in the area of education choice, I find the governor’s running mate pick encouraging.
Teaching is a tough, demanding profession that not just anyone can do.
That’s why I like the concept of school choice. Competition elevates a profession and hones the skills of its practitioners.
And I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want the very best for his or her child.
That’s why parents need to be empowered with education choices.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.