A recently released cache of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's private emails reveals he had been open to discussing a controversial voucher-like program that could divert millions of taxpayer dollars to private schools.
The release of an April email exchange with Cardinal Blase Cupich about such a program being floated by the Trump administration comes as state lawmakers continue closed-door negotiations over how to fund public schools across the state. The impasse over school funding threatens the delivery of nearly all state education money weeks before the start of a new school year.
WBEZ has learned the discussions among lawmakers include the kind of tax credit scholarship program Cupich had emailed the mayor about this spring. The state-level proposal could divert up to $100 million in state tax revenue to special funds that would help families pay for private school tuition, or help send their children to a public schools outside their home districts.
When asked if the mayor would support an education tax credit program in Illinois, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins said Emanuel “has been clear publicly that his priority is the state's education funding formula.”
In Cupich’s email exchange with Emanuel, the cardinal referenced U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ push to expand private school choice by creating a federal education tax credit program.
The Trump administration hasn’t released specific details, but the idea is to give tax credits to anyone donating to a fund that would allow eligible students to attend a private school of their choosing. The same concept is now being discussed by Illinois lawmakers in the negotiations to overhaul public school funding across the state.
“I am personally interested in the proposal to fund a $20B in federal education tax credit as part of the federal tax reform. I am convinced that this would be an enormous boost to the Chicago schools and the thousands of parents who use our schools,” Cupich wrote on April 11, the same day Chicago Public Schools and the State of Illinois made a court appearance after the district sued the state over inadequate public school funding.
“In due time at your convenience, I would welcome a chance to discuss this matter with you and work with you for ways to strengthen all of our schools,” Cupich wrote.
The Archdiocese of Chicago oversees more than 220 schools serving nearly 80,000 students.
Emanuel gave a brief response the next morning: “Of course we will discuss,” he wrote.
WBEZ reported earlier this year that some Illinois lawmakers were hopeful that vouchers or tax-credit scholarships would become a reality this year given the push at the federal level.
Susan Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese, said Wednesday that Cupich talks with the mayor on a variety of topics. She could not confirm whether a meeting resulted from the email because she said did not have access to the Cardinal’s schedule and the person who does was out of the office.
Collins said the mayor and the cardinal talk “fairly regularly” and have met since April. He did not say what the two discussed.