Tomorrow, Tuesday April 4th, is Election Day all across Illinois, including in Chicago.
These local elections are crucial ones for our public schools in Chicago and in dozens of districts around the state: Will we continue to have strong public schools committed to serving all our children?
✶ Why to vote: School boards—elected everywhere in Illinois, except Chicago, where the mayor appoints the board—make an impact at the local level through their policy and spending decisions.
Boards also play an underappreciated, but incredibly important, societal and long-term role in preserving and strengthening our democracy: Public schools that serve all children educate the next generation of citizen-voters. In a pluralistic society, we need schools that serve everyone. Public schools are a public good, not just a private, individual benefit.
✶ How, when, where to vote: Find your polling place. Polls are open 7am-7pm tomorrow April 4th. Early voting details vary by county. (Here’s Chicago’s.) Tuesday evening weather looks rough, so go today or early tomorrow if you haven’t yet!
Difficulties voting? Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE or go to 866ourvote.org
✶ Who to vote for: Do your homework! This is important in every election, but in local elections which often have low vote totals every vote literally matters. The Chicago mayoral runoff is expected to be extremely close as well. We have resources to help you research here: links to endorsements lists, candidate guides and more.
It may seem that local elections in Chicago would have little in common with school board races in suburban Niles Township, exurban Homer Glen or downstate Quincy. But, disturbingly enough, the same, interconnected network of dark money, extremist organizations and leaders are involved in elections throughout the state as well as the Chicago mayoral race.
It’s a red flag if candidates on your ballot are connected to, funded by, trained by and endorsed by these groups. You can find our full list here:
Dark money orgs on the ground in local elections in Illinois
But here’s some of the key players:
🚩 Betsy DeVos: Last Wednesday IL-FPS broke the news that Betsy DeVos is financially backing Paul Vallas’ mayoral bid. A DeVos-controlled PAC, Illinois Federation for Children, spent $59,000 to support Vallas’ on March 23rd.
Paul Vallas is known for his record of privatizing schools in Chicago and around the country. He has a radical proposal to further privatize CPS, including using CPS operating dollars for vouchers and creating religious charter schools. His campaign coffers have raked up millions from vouchers and charters supporters.
The chair of the Illinois Federation for Children PAC, Nathan Hoffman, has been regularly attending Vallas campaign events. Hoffman has lobbied in Springfield for years to make the Illinois Invest in Kids voucher program permanent and expand it as a contract lobbyist for DeVos, Empower Illinois, and Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd.
Hoffman is also an advisory board member of FAIR, a national organization that’s playing a role in the Evanston school board race.
🚩 Awake Illinois: Awake Illinois has been at the forefront of pushing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and worse throughout the Chicago area, along with opposing accurate history; diversity, equity and inclusion programming; support for social-emotional learning; comprehensive sex ed; and more. They have endorsed candidates in at least 45 school board races.
Paul Vallas has longstanding ties with Awake, publicly rallying with them in Naperville in March 2021, where Vallas said Awake leader Shannon Adcock should run for Governor of Illinois, and speaking at their first anniversary fundraiser along with Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow at DeVos-founded-and-funded American Federation for Children. Only in August 2022 did Vallas disavow his support for Awake, denying knowing about the anti-LBTQ+ hate they continue to spread.
Vallas was also an active member of the Illinois Parents Union Facebook group run by Illinois Policy Institute, posting in the group as recently as November 2022. The Illinois Parents Union group is a social media hub for statewide organizing of extremist parents has taken place, and appears to have been the launchpad for Awake Illinois, according to documents recently shared on social media.
🚩 Wirepoints: Wirepoints has been spreading disinformation about public school test scores online and at public events throughout the state. (We debunk those talking points here.) Awake Illinois is using Wirepoints misleading statistics to promote their endorsed candidates.
Paul Vallas has been a guest on Wirepoints podcast, including speaking about school privatization in November 2021, where he expressed his racist opposition to teaching accurate history. He's made use of Wirepoints talking points on test scores on his website and elsewhere.
🚩Dan Proft: Proft runs a national pink-slime rightwing “news” empire, which has endorsed school board candidates in 44 school districts and is supporting them with media placement in pink-slime disinformation sites.
Paul Vallas has been a frequent guest host on Proft’s Morning Answer show for the last several years; see here and here for more.
Local elections matter for our schools!
So, what's the bigger picture of what's at stake tomorrow? Three years into a global pandemic, our public schools face significant problems, including a growing teacher shortage and inadequate state funding in more than 80% of districts. Chicago alone is $1.2 billion short and the rest of Illinois is missing another $6 billion.
We need local leaders who are willing and ready to tackle these issues, including working with Springfield on pro-public ed solutions. Just as importantly, we need leaders who are committed to serving all students, including students who qualify for special education services in Illinois (almost 1 in 5), those from low-income households (50%), and English-language learners (more than 1 in 8).
Unfortunately, for the past two years, public schools have been under attack by anti-equality, anti-student inclusion groups whose goals are to roll back curricula and policies that make our schools safe and welcoming for all students. They want to end programs for diversity, equity and inclusion and social-emotional learning; ban books that address race or gender; stop any teaching of accurate information about historic and current racial injustice; and dismantle civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ students and students with disabilities.
And, they have a broader aim of discrediting public education in hopes of further privatizing the public school system.
None of this addresses the actual problems our schools face! Instead, it creates a hostile, inequitable environment for students, families and staff from historically marginalized groups—the opposite of what a school system that serves as the foundation of a pluralistic, multi-racial democracy, should be.
Voting in tomorrow’s election is crucial, and, no matter the outcomes of these races, those of us who understand what our public schools mean for our children, our communities and our state must continue to organize in this long struggle for education justice.
Artwork: Ellen Gradman