Sep 15, 2014
Year after year, Chicago Public Schools has been cutting the amount of money that goes to the schools. This year, neighborhood schools lost 67 million dollars in funding. Last year, CPS closed 50 elementary schools. Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, claims that things will only get worse in the future – in each of the next two years, CPS will face a billion-dollar shortfall. Her solution is to attack teacher pensions. Otherwise, she says, the schools will face even more drastic cuts.
But it is obvious that there is an enormous amount of money in Chicago. The Loop has one of the most impressive collections of corporate skyscrapers in the world and houses the headquarters of many huge companies like Boeing, United Airlines, and MillerCoors. The Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and many other neighborhoods are dripping in wealth. So when they say there is no money for the schools, it is obvious they are lying.
The reality is that the mayor and his cronies have been stealing money out of the public school budget in many different ways for many years, and squirreling it away to hand over to these very same wealthy corporations.
One of the biggest ways they do this is through Tax Increment Financing, or TIFs. These TIFs are supposed to help poor neighborhoods recover from blight by taking a portion of their tax money and using it for development. But the way TIFs actually work is that huge chunks of the tax money that is supposed to go to the school budget, along with the budget for parks and other public services, gets diverted into a slush fund controlled completely by the mayor.
TIFs sucked 412 million dollars out of property taxes last year and the TIF slush fund now has about 1.7 billion dollars in reserves. To put this in perspective, in 2012, taxpayers paid 457 million dollars into TIFs, while the city put 386 million into pensions for all city workers. So when Byrd-Bennet says the only way to save the school system is to cut teacher pensions, it is a big fat lie.
And the TIF funds do not go to help blighted neighborhoods. Recent TIF funded projects include 55 million dollars for a hotel near the McCormick Place convention center, millions more for an upscale grocery store in Greektown, a commercial center with a Whole Foods in wealthy Hyde Park, and a riverfront plaza downtown. Some TIF money does go to schools – but not to neighborhood schools. Emanuel has pledged 14 million for an expansion of the highly selective Walter Payton College Prep High School and another 60 million for a new selective enrollment high school named after President Obama, both on the very wealthy near north side, both reserved for a very small number of students who do exceptionally well on placement tests, most of whom come from privileged families.
Chicago is not broke. There is plenty of money in this city to provide every single student with an excellent education – like the education Rahm Emanuel’s children get at the University of Chicago’s Lab School with its $28,000 a year tuition. But we can see by the direction that politicians like Emanuel have taken in Chicago that they want to use every penny of the city’s budget to serve the big corporations.
Chicago’s children could have the education they deserve – but only if that money is taken back from the wealthy.