The head of the Chicago Teachers Union is facing backlash for sending her eldest child to a private high school, a decision she says represents a stark statement about disinvestment in public schools and drives home why the fight to fully fund neighborhood schools is so important.
An online news site run by a former CTU employee that has been critical of the union leadership revealed on Saturday that CTU President Stacy Davis Gates is sending her freshman son to a Catholic school on the South Side. National and local right-wing and pro-school choice groups have picked up the story.
A main criticism is that Davis Gates and the CTU strongly oppose school choice.
In an interview with WBEZ, Davis Gates said she is critical of school choice initiatives that siphon money from public schools, saying they are partly to blame for the lack of resources available to neighborhood schools.
She defended her decision to send her son to a private school, saying it was the result of “unfair choices” she and other South and West Side parents face.
“It was a very difficult decision for us because there is not a lot to offer Black youth who are entering high school” in Chicago, Davis Gates said. “In many of our schools on the South Side and the West Side, the course offerings are very marginal and limited. Then the other thing, and it was a very strong priority, was his ability to participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities, which quite frankly, don’t exist in many of the schools, high schools in particular.”
Davis Gates is also denouncing the news outlet’s decision to reveal her son’s high school choice, along with his picture and name.
“We live in a time with extremist political rhetoric, and it has led to violence,” she said. “My children, my family should not have to endure this. And doxing a child is violent, and it’s unacceptable, and it needs to be rejected and decried by every institutional leader. It’s just not okay.”
SubX.News, the online news site that published the story, suggests it is hypocritical for Davis Gates to send her son to a private school. In its story, SubX points to articles where mayors and school district officials were scrutinized for sending their children to private schools. Local media picked up the story about Davis Gates after she confirmed the news to WBEZ on Thursday.
National and local right-wing groups and pro-school choice advocates have been commenting on the news, pointing out that Davis Gates and the CTU have strongly opposed charter schools and an Illinois private school scholarship program that gives tax credits to donors. When asked in a Southside weekly interview last month if she had concerns about school-choice and privatization supporters running for the Chicago school board, Davis Gates said, “Yes, we are concerned about the encroachment of fascists in Chicago.”
Critics, including former mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, say Davis Gates wants to prevent poor Black and Latino families from having the same options her son has.
The Illinois Republican Party accused her of “hypocrisy”and the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, posted an article Wednesday highlighting a statement Davis Gates once made that school choice is racist. It ended on this question: “You have to wonder: If the teachers union leader who wants to kill school choice has made the private school choice for her own child, how convincing are her arguments against school choice for low-income children with few options for breaking the cycle of generational poverty?”
Davis Gates and others say charter schools and voucher programs contribute to the disinvestment that has left public schools without robust programming.
“Our neighborhoods have basically been robbed of everything,” said Davis Gates, who lives in Chatham on the South Side.
She said that leaves families, especially Black families on the South and West sides, facing a terrible dilemma.
All three of her children attended a Chicago public elementary school; the younger two still do. When her oldest child reached 7th grade, she said she and her husband, like many parents in the city, started stressing out. They first looked at their neighborhood school.
“My neighborhood school doesn’t offer a newspaper,” she said. “It doesn’t offer web design. It doesn’t offer a student council. It doesn’t offer resources, sports opportunities. It just doesn’t do that,” she said.
Disinvestment and disparities have long been a problem in CPS, but Davis Gates says they have been exacerbated in recent years. All but one majority-Black neighborhood high school on the South Side has seen enrollment drop precipitously over the past decade. The school district tied funding tightly to enrollment during this time, which led to declining budgets in these schools. Many had to limit class variety and do away with activities.
Another big consideration: Her son plays soccer, and the South Side schools with good programs are in Latino neighborhoods far from her home.
Davis Gates said they looked at selective enrollment and magnet high schools, which tend to have healthy enrollments and fundraising that allows them to offer more complete programs. But that would have required her son to spend hours traveling.
She said they even considered sending her son to live with her brother in a different state so he could have a high school experience like what she and her husband had – experiences outside of Chicago that she says catapulted them into higher education.
“Never in a million years would I have thought that making a choice to live on the South Side of Chicago with my Black neighbors, that that would marginalize opportunities for my children,” she said. “It is an unfair choice that not only Black families in Chicago face, but it is also a situation for families in New York City and Baltimore.”
In the end, she and her husband concluded that the best option was the private school, which has a competitive soccer team and strong extracurricular activities.
John Kugler, who wrote the story about Davis Gates for SubX and runs the site, said he disagrees with her decision, but he can empathize with her family’s struggle. Kugler was terminated from the CTU in 2021 and has been critical of the current leadership.
He defends the decision to expose Davis Gates’s son because his profile was on MaxPreps, a national website that publishes stats and information about high school athletes. Kugler says all decisions and statements by CTU staff had to fall in line with the union’s positions. He said the union and Davis Gates should have known this decision would be open to scrutiny.
Kugler said he faced many of the same challenges when raising his children on the Southwest Side. They played water polo and wanted to go to selective enrollment high schools.
But he insisted they go to Juarez High School, a neighborhood high school in Pilsen. Kugler donated his time and energy to start a water polo team there.
“By the time he graduated, they’re in the city finals,” he said. “So I guess maybe it’s because of my own personal philosophy that I like putting my resources in. I saw it as an opportunity to make it better and fix it.”
Yet thinking back on that decision, Kugler said he gets emotional. It was difficult.
“No parent should have to make these types of decisions,” he said. “Why can’t my kids walk to school and have the resources they need, whether it’s special ed, whether it’s sports, whether it’s academics, whether it’s social justice, whatever it is. And that’s the travesty of this system that you’re working with.”
This story has updated to correct the name of the Illinois Policy Institute.