Mayor Richard M. Daley should hang his head in shame. On Wednesday night, the candidates who want to replace him gave the school system he spent 20 years reforming somewhere between a C-minus and a D. 

Mayor Richard M. Daley should hang his head in shame. On Wednesday night, the candidates who want to replace him gave the school system he spent 20 years reforming somewhere between a C-minus and a D. 

But that’s politics, right? 
Gery Chico, Miguel Del Valle, Carol Moseley Braun and James Meeks showed up at the first mayoral forum focused on education. It was sponsored by the parent-activist group, Raise Your Hand, as well as the Illinois Policy Forum and Northside Democracy for America. Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, moderated the event.
Danny Davis, a West Side congressman, couldn’t attend the event as he was called back to Washington D.C. to vote on the pending tax cut bill. Rahm Emanuel, who has a lead in early polls, chose not to attend the event and was hardly mentioned, except for being the subject of one small joke poking fun at his absence.
The event was held at Walter Payton College Prep on the Near North Side and the candidates were careful not to lump the top-notch, selective enrollment high school in with the rest of Chicago Public Schools. They also didn’t attack choice, as they must have been well aware that the students and parents in the audience benefited from it.
However, the candidates’ remarks were mostly focused on fixing struggling neighborhood schools. Meeks and Braun said they believed the schools were broken. Braun said too many of them were dropout factories, where teachers only come to collect a paycheck. Meeks said they were so bad that parents needed vouchers to get away from them.
Meeks’ reiteration of his support for vouchers led to the only direct exchange between candidates. Meeks said it will take him seven to 10 years to fix CPS and that parents of current school-age children don’t have that time to wait. Del Valle said that turning to vouchers would be paramount to giving up.
“I am not going to do that,” del Valle said. 
Del Valle and Chico had a more well-rounded view of the school system, both of them pointing out that some good neighborhood schools do exist. 
Chico said he wanted to lengthen the school day from 176 days to 200 days and from six hours to eight. DeValle also said he wanted to extend the school day, but mostly through community schools where parents and children can attend after-school programs together. 
Braun and Meeks, however, are not sold on the idea. The schools are so bad, Braun said, that she wouldn’t force children to spend more time in them. Meeks said, without money, extending the school day would be difficult to do, but he would lengthen reading periods in the primary grades from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. 
While Meeks would not fight with the teachers union over a longer school day, he would give them a deadline for dealing with ineffective teachers. He said the union would have one year to come up with a plan and, if they didn’t, he would press the state legislature to do so.
Meeks, Chico and Del Valle all said they would push state lawmakers for an income tax increase for education. Chico said he would like for it to be off-set by property tax relief. 
But Braun said she would not look for any new tax revenue. “In the middle of a recession, it is wrong to raise taxes,” she said. “We need to be able to work smarter.”
Chico was the only candidate who would not commit to hiring an educator to run the school district. In fact, he said he would bring back Paul Vallas, the CEO of CPS during the time Chico was School Board president.  
Chico, Meeks and Braun favor mayoral power to appoint school board members. But DeValle would bring back a nominating commission of teachers and others to help him decide who should serve on the board. 
Braun would put a moratorium on Tax Increment Financing Districts, a tool that uses property taxes to pay for economic development. Critics say that TIFs siphon too much money away from schools and other taxing bodies. Meeks called for TIF spending to be more transparent. Chico, however, pointed out that many schools have been built with TIF money.
The forum ended with each candidate saying how important education was to them. Chico said he will rise or fall as a mayor depending on the education system. “I am alright with that,” he said. 

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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