By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Cruader
Bruce Rauner got into more hot water earlier this week when he called many Chicago public school buildings “crumbling prisons.” The comment prompted an immediate reaction from other elected officials, community groups and citizens who called the comment callous and mean. The comment from Rauner also seemed disingenuous seeing that he recently had a daughter graduate from Walter Payton College Prep, one of the top schools in the state, which is also a CPS institution.
“The simple fact is that when you look objectively at the status of Chicago Public Schools, many of them are inadequate, many of them are woeful and some are just tragic,” Rauner said. “Many of them are basically, almost crumbling prisons. They’re not a place that a young person should be educated. We’ve got to improve the system.”
Comparing the schools to prisons got to the guile of several elected leaders and Civil Rights groups. The Black community is suffering the effects of a disproportionate prison population, laws that target the community harshly and a high unemployment rate to go along with a lack of quality neighborhood schools.
“The children of Chicago Public Schools deserve state government leadership with a vision of excellence for their schools and the commitment and creativity to implement that vision,” read a statement from Cong. Bobby Rush (D-1st). “By comparing the schools to crumbling prisons and the southern and central Illinois communities with those of Chicago, Governor Rauner is only sowing seeds of discord and divisiveness.”
Mayor Emanuel quickly responded to the Governor’s comments as well. He has said many of the problems Rauner is talking about can be solved with proper financing from the state.
“Yesterday people across the state were looking for solutions. Instead of uniting the governor was dividing,” Emanuel said. “Instead of leading he was playing politics, pitting parents and students in one part of the state against parents and students in another. Right now schools across Illinois need a leader, and instead Bruce Rauner is following the Donald Trump playbook of demonizing one group of people for his political advantage.”
African American community groups saw racial bigotry in Rauner’s remarks. Because the vast majority of CPS students are Black and Latino, the prison comment did not sit well with the leader of the Chicago Urban League.
“The Chicago Urban League is outraged by the remarks Governor Rauner made today comparing Chicago Public Schools to ‘crumbling prisons.’ Not only is calling our schools ‘prisons’ unhelpful during such a critical time, the remarks were insensitive and racially divisive, reflective of the political gamesmanship that is being play-
ed on the backs of our black and brown children in the city of Chicago,” read a statement from Chicago Urban League CEO Shari Runner. “There is absolutely no place for this kind of incendiary rhetoric that perpetuates a stereotypical narrative, especially given the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues our city. Furthermore, it is not helpful to spew divisive rhetoric when our children’s futures are being threatened by a broken funding system that disproportionately affects students of color and those from low-income families. Illinois is nearly last in overall education funding when compared to its counterparts nationally, and is dead last in funding equitably for low-income/- needy children. Our students and our city deserve better.”
Citizens in the community have also grown tired of Rauner and his inability along with other state lawmakers to pass a budget. Civic groups, business leaders and citizens all agree without a state budget, it is leading to uneasiness in communities. Recent media reports have shown that dozens of school districts throughout the state are concerned about what to do in the fall when schools are set to reopen again. Some have already said they are operating on reserve funds while last week, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool floated the idea that the district may not reopen in the fall at all without tens of millions owed to the district by the state.
“If they do not open these schools in September all hell is going to break loose,” said Maria Sambora, whose daughter attends Shoop Academy on the South Side. “Because of all the budget cuts the schools have been forced to make, my kid’s education is already being affected. If they do not open I will be forced to either move to the suburbs or put my daughter in a private school for her junior high years.”
In the meantime, the Chicago Teachers Union believes a part of the financial solution should involve taxing the affluent in the form of House Bill 106. The bill introduced last April by Rep. Mary Flowers, calls for imposing a tax on the privilege of engaging in a financial transaction on any of the following exchanges or boards of trade: the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The tax would be imposed at a rate of $1 per contract for all transactions for which the underlying asset is an agricultural product and $2 per contract for all other contracts.
The CTU has publicly supported the bill and CTU President Karen Lewis believes it is a viable solution to the financial crisis CPS is facing. CTU members are currently working without a contract but have yet to strike.