In 2004, the objective of Renaissance 2010 was to create 100 schools, both elementary and secondary, over the course of several years to increase educational options for students and parents. Interested entities submitting proposals could submit under three categories: charter (independent operator pursuant Illinois Charter Law), performance (nonprofit operated, but must follow Illinois School Code), or contract (CPS employees, but flexibility with policy and practice).
While all three categories fall under the umbrella of Chicago Public Schools, they each had different jurisdictions. However, if granted the opportunity to open a new school, outcomes needed to be demonstrated within a finite time frame. Under the guise of "choice," the majority of schools created under Renaissance 2010 were charter schools. In essence, charters gained reach because although there had been state limitations on the number of charters that could be
created, Renaissance 2010 provided a loophole to create more charters while at the same time many neighborhood schools were closed.
Ten years later, my concern with this initiative is that the educational market became saturated with charters while simultaneously neighborhood schools received fewer resources.
I believe it is necessary to change course dramatically from the so-called "reform" education agenda offered by Mayor Emanuel and instead take a new, holistic approach to our city’s schools. A sound public education system is the foundation of a functioning democracy and a healthy economy – just as access to quality public grade school and high school education is a basic right for all in our city.
My approach is grounded in giving basic democratic controls over the school system back to the public through an elected school board; reducing to the barest legal minimum the plethora of high-stakes, standardized tests by which we falsely judge schools, students, and teachers; placing a moratorium on further charter schools; expanding public education to include pre-kindergarten and even earlier; and reducing class size, which is one of the largest in the state. We need to stop pretending that standardized tests measure intelligence, learning or real world capabilities. They measure little more than the ability to take standardized tests, a skill that is rarely needed in the workplace.
We must further commit to ensuring that every student in our system has access to good textbooks, libraries, recreational facilities and course offerings in languages, literature and the arts.
As Mayor, I am committed to ensuring that critical bilingual and dual-language programs will be available to all students that need and desire them. It is well documented that fluency in a second or even third language, starting at an early age, helps students academically across the board, helping them immensely in their capacity to become truly college and career ready. These programs are also essential in our increasingly global economy, as recognized by the recently established Illinois State Seal of Biliteracy.
I do not support a further expansion of charter schools, and I think any discussion on savings within the public school system must recognize that charters have become the new coin of political patronage. A glaring example is UNO, which received more than $100 million in state funds alone – yet whose leader Juan Rangel was forced to resign in the wake of reports of cronyism and corruption within the charter network he ran. Yet Rangel also earned $260,000 a year overseeing this charter system at the same time that he co-chaired Emanuel’s mayoral campaign and UNO personnel worked in local campaigns against Emanuel’s critics. This represents one of the most pernicious – but hardly unique – examples of pay-to-play politics, a classic form of pinstripe patronage in which the politically privileged reap the benefits of support for senior elected officials in exchange for high salaries, lack of oversight, and in education a notably poor delivery of benefits to the students who should be the most important stakeholders in this system. This toxic marriage of profit and politics short-changes the debt-plagued public school system, undermines students and fleeces taxpayers.
Fairly and responsibly allocate our resources so that educators have what they need to best prepare our children for bright futures. Immediately make our school board an elected body, so that parents students and teachers have a voice in our children’s education. Reevaluate standardized testing in our school system so the primary focus of their education is on learning, not test taking. Promote universal pre-k so children at crucial ages are given the foundation to take advantage of every educational opportunity they will encounter. Bring art and music education back into the regular curriculum, as these are necessary learning tools, not simple electives.