At education summit, calls for more revenue for schools

With no state aid headed to schools and the threat of more drastic budget cuts ahead, a diverse crowd of about 200 gathered over the weekend to discuss strategies for bringing additional revenue to schools.

Eleven aldermen and one state representative joined about 200 teachers, parents, activists and students at an education summit Saturday, calling for “progressive revenue solutions” for the financial crisis at Chicago Public Schools.

The event at the National Teachers Academy in the South Loop, was organized by the Chicago Teachers Union and co-sponsored by the Grassroots Educational Movement, Chicago Jobs with Justice, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 143, Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, and SEIU Local 73.

The “education summit” had been in the works for weeks, but ironically ended up being held a day after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have spent nearly $4 billion on education and social services. Rauner said the bill was “an unfunded, empty promise.”

At the summit, speakers talked about the impact of budget cuts that have already hit schools this year and threats by CPS leaders of even more draconian cuts next fall if no help arrives from a deadlocked Springfield.

Karina Martinez, a student at Curie High School, described a leaking gym roof and how students aren’t allowed to take textbooks home because there aren’t enough for everybody. She said her orchestra class has 42 students and when instruments break, they have to ask “rich people” to make donations to fix them.

Matt Luskin, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, called on city and district leaders to stop blaming gridlock in Springfield for all the problems and instead support local revenue solutions, such as the redirection of tax-increment financing (TIF) dollars to schools, a tax on financial transactions and suing banks involved in the district’s so-called “toxic swaps.” City Treasurer Kurt Summers has endorsed the plan of suing banks, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel has so far declined to follow the recommendation.

He also urged city leaders to support a progressive tax.

“There is not going to be a solution from Springfield that will make all our problems go away by September,” he said.

Several aldermen in attendance — including many who are not part of the City Council’s progressive caucus — said they were interested in learning more about the CTU’s proposal and working with summit participants on finding a solution.

Ald. James Cappelman, of the 46th Ward in Uptown, called it “frightening that we have principals leaving CPS.”

During a breakout session on sustainable community schools, Ald. Harry Osterman of the 48th Ward said the schools in his district are highly rated and attracting new families. But he said he’s worried about all schools and that “it’s a city issue.”

Other aldermen present included: Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward); John Arena (45th Ward); Pat Dowell (3rd Ward); Sophia King (4th Ward); Deb Mell (33rd Ward); Rick Munoz (22nd Ward); Chris Talliaferro (29th Ward); Nick Sposato (38th Ward); and George Cardenas (12th Ward), who showed up toward the end of the summit. Rep. Sonya Harper, a Democrat from the 6th District, which includes Englewood, also turned out. (See this Substance News story for more on what each elected official said.)