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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at a news conference at Chicago's Union Station on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, where he announced his support for a proposal by top Illinois Republicans for a state takeover of the financially troubled Chicago Public Schools. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Fueled by 'Austerity Agenda,' Gov. Plans for State Takeover of Chicago Public Schools

Critic sees plan as 'a blatant attempt to use bankruptcy laws as a pretext to reward friends and punish enemies.'

Andrea Germanos

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has been accused of "doubling down and holding Illinois citizens hostage with his austerity agenda" following his backing of Republican plan for a state takeover of the Chicago Public Schools.

With the move, unveiled on Wednesday, Rauner "launched a years-in-the-making all-out assault on the Chicago Teachers Union," the Chicago Tribune reports, while Politico describes the school system as "the latest laboratory for an ambitious Midwestern governor trying push his anti-union agenda."

Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno defended the measure as a "lifeline" for a school system with an "abysmal" track record.

As WTTW reports, the proposal would allow for CPS, which faces a $500 million cash shortage, to declare bankruptcy. It would also allow, the Tribune adds, "the governor's hand-picked State Board of Education chief to replace the mayor's appointed school board until the district's finances were deemed fixed. The state panel would have the power to negotiate a new teachers' contract if none is reached in current talks, or oversee a union contract that could be broken if the district filed for bankruptcy."

WBEZ adds:

Emanuel’s current schools chief, Forrest Claypool, said the Republican proposals are missing the real problem facing the school district. Claypool argued that the state government has never adequately funded Chicago’s schools. In large part, the underfunding he’s talking about is driven by the state not paying into the Chicago teachers’ pension fund.

Among the proposal's critics—who also include embattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the CTU—is House Speaker Michael Madigan, who pointed to failures in another city which stripped local control away with the appointment of an emergency manager. "The disaster in Flint, Michigan, is a very timely example of how reckless decisions just to save a buck can have devastating consequences on children and families."

"Republicans' ultimate plans include allowing cities throughout the state to file for bankruptcy protection, which they admitted today would permit cities and school districts to end their contracts with teachers and workers—stripping thousands of their hard-earned retirement security and the middle-class living they have worked years to achieve," Madigan's statement added.

Ben Joravsky argues at the Chicago Reader that the plan is "a blatant attempt to use bankruptcy laws as a pretext to reward friends and punish enemies."

That's because "the governor, having declared CPS bankrupt, would get to preserve the contracts that enrich his pals—like the borrowing deals that pay outrageously high interest to bankers, while ripping up the contracts that benefit his enemies, like Chicago's teachers," Joravsky writes.

Senn High School in Chicago. (Photo: Shara Miller/flickr/cc)

The plan was also swiftly denounced by the CTU in a statement issued Wednesday.

"This, and the governor’s agenda on a whole, is the reincarnation of the GOP-sponsored 1995 Amendatory Act that narrowed workers' rights in CPS, muted parent voice and action, and cleared the way for the proliferation of private entities to siphon off public dollars for personal gain. This previous piece of legislation, the result of a Republican-controlled legislature and governor colluding with a Chicago mayor, left our district with mayoral control, unprecedented pension holidays and unchecked charter proliferation.

"Now," their statement adds, "instead of rejecting failed policy, the governor is doubling down and holding Illinois citizens hostage with his austerity agenda, which is why we continue to call for a tax on millionaires and the wealthy, for big banks to return money stole through toxic swap deals, and for a tax increment financing (TIF) surplus declared immediately."

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