Chicago mayoral candidates share education background, but from different sides

Sarah Schulte Image
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Chicago mayoral candidates share education background, but from different sides
Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson both have backgrounds in educaiton but from opposite sides. Vallas was once the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, while Johnson was a teacher and CTU o

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Education is the one issue Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas have in common, but from very different sides and views of it.

Vallas' background is in managing large urban school districts, while Johnson is a former teacher and Chicago Teachers Union organizer.

Johnson taught at Jenner Academy of the Arts, near the now-gone Cabrini Green public housing complex, for five years. Vallas like to remind people he built the school while serving as CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

"We have labor versus management, essentially," said Becky Vevea, Chalkbeat bureau chief.

The next mayor will oversee the nation's fourth largest school district, a new designation after a big recent decline in which enrollment dropped by 150,000 students during the past 10 years.

"Since 2019, the district has lost 11% of its population," Vallas said.

"We have to think more broadly about what public education means," said Johnson.

Johnson's plan for education mirrors what the CTU has been pushing for in the last decade: more social workers, nurses, counselors, affordable housing support for students outside the classroom.

"That's why I propose for childcare for all, that's why I've proposed community colleges should be free for Chicago Public School Students," he said.

With no plan to pay for it, Johnson hopes the state will foot the bill.

Vallas said his plan is to make schools into community hubs.

"The campuses are there, the gyms are there, the athletic fields are there, keep these campuses open through nights and weekends," he said.

Both men have different ideas on district finances. Vallas said he will increase the amount of money that goes directly to the classroom by cutting waste.

"There is no reason we can't take this budget and significantly down size the central office," Vallas said.

Johnson said it's time to fund schools on need and not on a per-pupil basis.

"By embracing the funding formula that I helped organize and shift in Springfield, Chicago Public Schools would receive 1 billion additional dollars," he said.

The next mayor's first term will include negotiating a new contract with the CTU. For the past decade, Johnson has been a paid organizer for the union, supporting strikes and COVID school closures.

"Do you want the Chicago Teachers Union to run the school district or for that matter, do you want the Chicago Teachers Union leadership to be running the city?" Vallas challenged.

"The people of Chicago run the city of Chicago, there is no reason to be afraid of kindergarten teachers and crossing guards," Johnson countered.

This will also be the first time a mayor will work with an elected school board.

"The good news is whoever is elected will know the school system very intimately. They know a lot about education," Vevea said.

The school board will transition into an elected one in 2025, the same year the moratorium on school closures ends. Neither Vallas nor Johnson would make any commitments not to close under-enrolled schools.