Mayor Rahm Emanuel says if Chicago Public Schools files for bankruptcy, it could undo the progress he’s made on education.
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has pushed bankruptcy, and a state takeover of CPS, as a way for the cash-strapped district to restructure its debt. Emanuel has publicly blasted Rauner for that idea many times, but in an interview with WBEZ, he offered a new argument: That it could ruin some of the achievements he frequently touts.
Usually, when the mayor talks about education, he finds a way to fit in his extension of the longer school day or year. But he says if court appointed administrators or accountants came in to manage a bankrupt CPS, who knows how much of that progress would stick?
“They could recommend a four-day school week. They could recommend a shorter school day. They could recommend eliminating kindergarten. They could recommend getting rid of high school and arts programs as a way to balance the budget. Now, what have we done? We’ve made a fiscal set of changes all on the backs of our kids’ future,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel repeated his charge that declaring bankruptcy wouldn’t fix the unequal funding CPS gets from the state, which, in his mind, is the core of CPS’ financial problems.
Emanuel pitched his latest argument against Rauner’s plan while in Pilsen for an announcement about early childhood education. Emanuel announced Monday that his administration has come up with a creative way to expand pre-kindergarten for low-income families.
The mayor says through restructuring and reinvesting savings from central office cuts, the city can offer around 1,000 more students full-day pre-kindergarten by the 2017-18 school year, bringing the total of full day spots up to 17,000.
“If you’re not reading at third-grade level, if you’re not doing math at a third-grade level, it’s not like fourth grade is a success,” Emanuel told WBEZ. “And if you want a child to succeed at third grade, you have to do things at three weeks old and three years old.”
To expand part-time spots to full-time, Emanuel said he would take $1 million dollars in savings from cuts to the early childhood division in the district’s central office. His administration will also move all community-based pre-k programs from CPS to the department of Family and Support Services (DFSS).
“That’s our strength, that’s the way DFSS goes to market now, if you will,” Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler said. “This is a model that’s already in place at DFSS and it made sense therefore for us to just continue to do what we’ve already done.”
The mayor’s office says they expect about $6 million in savings by eliminating redundancies, but Morrison Butler says they’re still figuring out all the details.
In other school news, Emanuel said that calls for his resignation by the Chicago Teachers’ Union has not changed the tenor at the bargaining table.
“You know, my view is, I’ve been in public life a long time. I kinda basically block out the noise and focus on what’s essential,” Emanuel said.
In the past, Emanuel has had a rocky relationship with Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis. But now, the mayor says he respects her “toughness and grit,” and he likes that she says what she thinks.
CPS and CTU are back at the negotiating table after the union last week rejected the city’s most recent offer. Union members said they didn’t trust Emanuel’s schools team would deliver on its promises.
Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.