DOWNTOWN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave beleaguered Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool a public show of support Tuesday, a week after 99 percent of the Chicago Teachers Union approved a no-confidence vote.
At a Downtown luncheon, Emanuel introduced Claypool as his "good friend" and said Claypool's leadership of not only the school district but also the Chicago Park District and CTA left the city on "stronger, firmer" ground.
After Emanuel's endorsement — which came amid City Hall whispers that tensions between Emanuel and Claypool were running high — Claypool accused Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers of "overt racial discrimination" against Chicago school children, 90 percent of whom are students of color.
During a lunchtime speech at the City Club of Chicago, Claypool said the fact that CPS gets 15 percent of state education funding but has 20 percent of the state's school-aged children is making "the great state of Illinois more akin to Jim Crow Mississippi than a modern Land of Lincoln."
The governor and his team are in Springfield working to find a solution to the state’s budget crisis, said Rauner's spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis.
"More tired finger-pointing without concrete solutions does nothing to help CPS’ students and teachers," Demertzis said.
Claypool said there was no way for the district to make up the $500 million shortfall created by what Emanuel called the state's "fundamentally broken" school-funding system through cuts or additional borrowing.
"There is no way to sugarcoat this," Claypool said, alleging that "the state of Illinois is engaged in overt racial discrimination against African-American and Latino school children in Chicago."
In a speech brimming with metaphors, Claypool likened the state's school-funding system to "a cancer" on Chicago's schools that must be removed by state lawmakers or the courts.
Claypool said leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union should do more to hold Rauner and state lawmakers accountable, rather than calling for taxes to be raised on Chicago's largest businesses.
'"[Union leaders] should be the first to acknowledge that this slighting of our children and teachers is fundamentally wrong," Claypool said. "CTU should be locking arms with us in Springfield, not simply demanding that Chicago taxpayers sacrifice even more, to make up for the state’s destructive dereliction."
Despite the "absolutely disgraceful" state of affairs, Chicago schools will open in the fall, regardless of whether Illinois lawmakers reach an agreement on a state budget — the deadline for which is less than 48 hours away, Claypool said in response to a question from the sold-out crowd after his speech.
“We will open the schools in the fall, and we’ll do whatever’s necessary to do that,” Claypool said.
During his speech, Claypool criticized the Chicago news media's "appetite for conflict" and urged reporters to spend their time crafting a "thoughtful explanation of the circumstances."
Five families sued the State of Illinois on behalf of Chicago Public Schools in February, claiming that the state has violated the civil rights of their children by giving Chicago schools less funding than other districts.
Illinois picks up a greater share of the bill for teacher pensions in school districts outside Chicago — where 58 percent of students are white — than for Chicago's teachers, where the district is 38 percent black, 47 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white.
In 2016, the lawsuit alleges, for every $1 the state spent on educating children outside the city, about 76 cents was spent on students in Chicago.
The Board of Education last week approved a plan to borrow $389 million to keep schools open through the end of the school year — and to make a required payment to the teachers' pension fund.
Rauner, a Republican, has suggested that state law should be changed to allow CPS to declare bankruptcy.
Claypool said that would be a "disaster."
After his speech, Claypool said a bill that would end mayoral control of school district in 2023 and replace appointed members of the school board with elected representatives "would not change the fundamental problem, which is funding."