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Voucher deal a ticking time bomb that will destroy school districts across the state

CHICAGO—Chicago public school educators and staff, parents and community partners will hold a press conference on Monday, August 28, at 10:15 a.m. to condemn the budget that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked Chicago Board of Education is set to rubber stamp. They’ll also call on legislators to reject the false choice of a voucher scheme embedded in a “compromise” state education funding bill—a poison pill that gives tax breaks to the wealthy with no public debate, and is built on the backs of Chicago public school students and their families.

The Board is poised to pass a phantom budget that is short almost $300 million in revenue with no specific plan in place to increase funding for schools. Today’s vote sets the stage for more payday loan borrowing by the Board, which is paying nearly a quarter of a million dollars per day in interest expenses on its short-term line of credit.

Chicago Teachers Union members argue that the system’s chronic structural deficit and reliance on borrowing at payday loan interest rates opens the door for Emanuel’s board to close more schools—particularly overwhelmingly African-American and Latino high schools that suffered huge hits with staff layoffs earlier this summer. That move would devastate those school communities, which already struggle with chronic disinvestment, and accelerate the growing exodus of families being forced from neighborhoods where social strife has been exacerbated by decades of fiscal neglect.

The CTU is also condemning a legislative deal that Emanuel has embraced—and the Board of Education has done nothing to oppose—which opens the door to school vouchers, a move that is expected to put roughly $75 million in public dollars into the coffers of private schools and provide hefty tax breaks for the wealthy. The union argues that the voucher “compromise” in SB1—modeled on the extremist privatization policies of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—is tantamount to planting a ticking time bomb on a bus and driving through school districts throughout the state, creating even greater debt and fiscal distress.

“The mayor’s failure to responsibly budget for our schools has set the stage for him to cut a deal with the governor to implement some kind of state-run ‘school finance authority’,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said. “This allows him to wash his hands of our schools while avoiding taxing his wealthy friends—many of whom are among his biggest campaign donors.”

“This false choice of a voucher ‘compromise’ for SB1, without public debate, will undermine the core promise of quality public education for all students—low income students, in particular—and give more hefty tax breaks to the rich, Sharkey added. “Legislators should reject this scheme and vote for a straight override of the governor’s veto of SB1.”

The CTU contends that a school finance authority would open the door to a continued pattern of privatization, union-busting and accelerated school disinvestment that has been employed in cities like Milwaukee, Detroit and Flint, Mich., where school systems were decimated by that strategy.

Chicago Teachers Union