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Republican Political Ad Portrays Chicago Schools With Abandoned Building

A new political ad from Illinois Republicans is using a photo of an abandoned building to portray Chicago Public Schools to a downstate Illinois audience.

The narrator in the ad, paid for by the House Republican Organization, hits three downstate Democrats — Sen. Gary Forby, Rep. John Bradley and Rep. Brandon Phelps — for recently voting for a budget proposal that is $7 billion out of balance and a “bailout” of Chicago Public Schools.

“Bradley, Phelps and Forby rubber-stamped Mike Madigan’s phony budget, adding billions in new debt, higher taxes on working families,” the ad’s narrator says. “But for failed Chicago schools, a reckless bailout.”

As the narrator reads the last line about CPS, the image on the screen shows a dilapidated building, with broken windows and chipped paint.

In fact, it’s on the stock photo website shutterstock.

“It’s up to the individual viewer to decide how they interpret that,” said Steven Yoffe, a spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party. “But the message is that these representatives and the senator say one thing when they’re in their district and they do another thing in Springfield.”

Yaffe said he’s not sure if it’s a photo of a CPS school, and classified the ad as a “substantial TV ad buy, network buy” in Southern Illinois.

Last week Gov. Bruce Rauner referred to some CPS buildings as “crumbling prisons .” Rauner’s comments and the ad come as a state budget for public schools across the state remains in limbo. Recent negotiations have come in private meetings between rank-and-file lawmakers. Rauner has asked Democrats to support his proposal of a stop-gap, partial state budget that would also fund schools for the year.

Senate Democrats have approved proposals that would change the way the state distributes money for education, saying the current method is inequitable, but those have not been supported in the House of Representatives. CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has also criticized Rauner, accusing him of attempting to divide the state and pit Southern Illinois against Chicago.

“It’s disgraceful that Governor Rauner’s allies are spreading ugly distortions about Chicago Public Schools, where students are improving faster than their peers in Illinois and the nation,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a written statement about the TV ad. “Schools all over Illinois need a funding system that treats students with dignity and equality, which is why so many downstate superintendents are opposed to the governor's status quo education budget. The Governor needs to unite the state to pass a budget, not divide us.”

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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