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General CTU Announcement
This week, from Aug. 7 to 9, Chicago is hosting the 40th annual gathering of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is an organization of corporate lobbyists and mostly Republican state legislators who meet behind closed doors to write corporate-approved "model legislation" to be introduced in statehouses nationwide the following year, legislation aimed at enriching corporations at the expense of the environment, workers' rights, health care and education. I recently participated in a Moral Monday-themed actionwith roughly 50 others at the Palmer House Hilton. I and five others were arrested in an act of civil disobedience while blocking the entrance to the "Empire Room."
Earlier this year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the closing of 50 public schools, the vast majority of which serve low-income children in high-poverty neighborhoods. While the unelected Chicago Board of Education slashed school budgets and forced the firing of thousands of school employees and educators, Mayor Emanuel gave out millions in tax breaks to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange -- his top campaign contributor -- a new stadium for DePaul University, and possibly even more for Wrigley Field. The city isn't broke, but rather has simply made clear that corporate profits are a higher priority than public education.
The situation in Chicago is not unlike the situation in Philadelphia, Pa., where the city council has ordered the closing of 23 public schools, also in impoverished neighborhoods. Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett slashed $1 billion from public education while simultaneously handing out $800 million in corporate tax breaks across the state, meaning a direct transfer of wealth from schools to the pockets of corporate CEOs. If one connects the dots, it's easy to trace all of this back to ALEC. Here's how ALEC's agenda is harming schools like those in the city hosting their annual conference.
Systematically Depriving the State of Revenue
Mayor Emanuel cites Chicago Public Schools' $1 billion deficit as a cause for his closing of 50 public schools. But Chicago is far from broke -- the money is simply being given away to other non-educational ventures. The ALEC agenda operates the same way.
The Center for Media and Democracy's "ALEC Exposed" wiki has published an exhaustive database of ALEC's model legislation sorted by category. ALEC's 1995 "Sound Federal Fiscal Policy Resolution" blames higher deficits on higher taxes, rather than ALEC's other model bills aimed at repealing estate taxes and capital gains taxes, which generate significant tax revenues and are overwhelmingly paid by the super-rich. By systematically starving states of revenue by cutting taxes for the rich, a revenue crisis is created with budget cuts presented as the only solution.
Redirecting Public Funds to Privately-Run Charter Schools
Chicago Public Schools estimates that Rahm Emanuel's budget cuts are affecting classrooms to the tune of $68 million this year alone. But the Raise Your Hand Coalition puts that number closer to $162 million when accounting for the money given to privately-run charter schools. Those cuts have led to over 2,000 layoffs in the CPS system, of which approximately 1,300 are teachers.
The education reform movement gets plenty of funding from Wall Street banks and hedge fund titans to advance its cause, creating elaborately-produced documentaries like Waiting for Superman. Walmart, well-known for its anti-union views, contributed millions to make the movie Won't Back Down, where Maggie Gyllenhaal portrays an everywoman character who just wants the best education for her child, and the antagonist is a bullheaded teachers' union boss selfishly pursuing her own interests rather than improving education. The charter school movement's argument contends that by letting schools operate on an independent charter, they get more autonomy in their communities and have more control over their budgeting process, and that those innovative ideas can then be applied in a public school setting.
On paper, this sounds harmless. But studies have consistently shown that public school students do better than their charter school counterparts. The Ohio Department of Education released a study last year showing that, among other results, public schools graduated 90 percent of their students, while charter schools only graduated 30 percent, even linking proficiencies with poverty levels in every instance. The real reason is cities like Chicago and Philadelphia are instead diverting public funds from public schools to charter schools at the insistence of millionaire charter school backers. This is simply one step toward privatizing more schools, thus widening the opportunity chasm between the sons and daughters of privilege and those living in poverty.