By Rebeca Nieves-Huffman, DFER Illinois State Director
The Chicago Teachers Union threw everything but the kitchen sink at Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 elections, putting their credibility and political reputation on the line. They recruited a challenger to take on the mayor, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on anti-Emanuel attacks, released a list of new contract demands (many of which don’t even fall under the purview of their contract negotiations) and threatened another teachers’ strike to stoke enthusiasm among members and fear among many voters on the fence. What more could they have done?
The people rejected their vision Tuesday, and elected Emanuel to another term. Voters did not buy into the false attacks on the mayor’s education record. Supporters of the mayor’s agenda should be proud that his work was vindicated at the ballot box. We can all be hopeful that Chicago will continue to see positive results in our schools.
Opponents of education reform are faced with a decision that could affect Chicago’s education future for the next decade: Do they continue their war on Rahm in earnest, or try to work with a mayor who has clearly demonstrated a greater desire for measured community input. Political games like threatening a strike are divisive and take attention away from the needs of our schoolchildren.
It’s time to move on from the constant attacks and dueling press conferences – on both sides. It’s time for reform opponents and reform supporters to seek common ground that will bind up the wounds of the city’s politics, and address the challenges facing our schools and students.
There are many areas where we can all agree immediate attention is needed in coming weeks and months: continuing to improve test scores and graduation rates, closing underperforming charter schools, expanding pre-K for all students, successfully implementing the STAR community college scholarship program for CPS graduates with a 3.0 GPA, and reforming our pension funding so taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for teachers in both Chicago and other communities throughout Illinois. We also need to work to avoid another strike that keeps kids out of the classroom.
The election is over. It’s time to get back to the hard work of governing. Karen Lewis has often demonstrated charisma, leadership ability and genuine concern for Chicago students. This is a time for Lewis to put aside political recriminations and work with her leadership team to make CTU a unifying force in our city instead of a divisive one. DFER is eager to work with them to make this a reality.
Rebeca Nieves-Huffman is the Illinois state director of Democrats for Education Reform, an education advocacy group and political action committee.
Read the full story on the Chicago Sun-Times here.
Learn more about DFER Illinois here.