The last two Chicago mayors took some news media heat for not sending their kids to public schools, as did Chicagoan Barack Obama when he pushed for education reforms. So, this particular issue is obviously not out of bounds in that city and nobody in public life there should expect otherwise.
Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates has, in the past, pointed with pride to the fact that all three of her kids attended public schools. While others often chafed at reporters’ questions about their children, Davis Gates did just the opposite, centering her children as part of who she is as a progressive activist.
“I’m also a mother,” Gates said on March 6, 2022, according to NBC 5 Chicago. “My children go to Chicago Public Schools. These are the things that legitimize my space within the coalition.”
“I can’t advocate on behalf of public education and the children of this city and educators in this city without it taking root in my own household,” she told Chicago magazine a month later.
Davis Gates has also been a fiery and longtime opponent of “school choice.” Last August, after a retired Chicago firefighter posted on social media: “School choice is the civil-rights struggle of our generation. Keeping poor children of color trapped in failing public schools is inherently racist,” Davis Gates fired back: “School choice was actually the choice of racists. It was created to avoid integrating schools with Black children.”
And then it came out last week that Davis Gates was sending one of her kids to a private Catholic school.
She had to have known this would blow up in the news media. The CTU has held protests outside of elected officials’ private residences, so Davis Gates couldn’t possibly expect a privacy pass. And you don’t just walk in a day before school starts and register your kid for a private high school, so she had plenty of time to contemplate her response.
If Davis Gates had simply defended her family’s decision by saying something like her son really had his heart set on going to that school, then I don’t think anyone could really disagree with her choice.
Instead, the union president initially stonewalled when faced with questions and then offered up an explanation to a local public radio station, which threw the South and West sides under the bus and, more importantly, just weren’t true.
President Davis Gates said basically three things last week to a WBEZ reporter: (1) Course offerings for high schools on the South Side and West Side “are very marginal and limited”; (2) Selective enrollment and magnet public high schools were just too far away and would’ve forced her son to, according to the article, “spend hours traveling”; (3) A public high school with a good soccer program (a sport played by her son) and strong extracurriculars are just not available close by, or are in Latino neighborhoods that were too far away.
Look, there’s no doubt whatsoever that problems exist in public schools on the South and West sides. But that doesn’t mean the areas are completely bereft, no matter what Internet trolls scream online.
Just as a small sampling, Davis Gates lives only three miles from Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, a high-quality selective-enrollment high school which has a soccer team and extracurricular activities.
Lindblom Math and Science Academy in the West Englewood neighborhood has a pretty darned good soccer team and is six miles from the union president’s home.
The Catholic school her son is attending, on the other hand, is almost nine miles from Davis Gates’ home.
Not to mention the area’s charter schools, which are taxpayer-funded and privately operated.
Davis Gates’ public explanation just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
An argument is currently being made that Davis Gates should now switch positions and support extending the life of the Invest in Kids Act, a 75-percent state income-tax credit for donations to private-school organizations, which expires at the end of the year.
That’s never gonna happen, even though the private school her son attends does promote, and apparently benefits from, Invest in Kids. The CTU’s position is that the program takes tax revenues away from public schools, which the union has always claimed are underfunded and in bad shape.
The lesson here is that life is full of nuance, and is only very rarely about evil vs good. More people should keep this in mind because you just never know what life might bring you.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.