Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Emanuel Talks Tourism While Protesters Freeze

Emanuel gave a “major speech” on his vision for tourism in Chicago in 2014

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Opinion: Emanuel Talks Tourism While Protesters Freeze

For Mayor Rahm Emanuel, there’s no better time to talk tourism in Chicago than in January.

January 22nd, to be exact.

This morning, Emanuel gave a “major speech” to outline his vision for tourism in Chicago in 2014 and beyond, according to a press release from his office. The speech focused on “new goals and initiatives that will foster continued job growth and economic impact in this critical sector.”

Why today? Well, the answer could be that it’s just hard to coordinate the schedule for a big city mayor, and today was the only day that would work.

The Mayor also spent part of the day cutting the ribbon on a new luxury hotel in the city’s trendy River North neighborhood, so it appears he has a busy schedule.

Of course, for both events, the media was invited but not allowed to ask questions. Just like almost any other positive-looking event the Mayor and his press handlers want to tout.

On the other hand, the real reason could be that, on today of all days, he is trying very hard to change the subject.

It could be that the Mayor is focusing on tourism and swanky hotels because he’s hoping to divert attention from the fact that his hand-picked school board is about to take another giant step in the process of dismantling the nation’s third largest public school district.

The Chicago Board of Education is voting today on whether to accept the proposals for as many as 17 new charter schools, the latest in a long string of actions and decisions geared towards tipping the balance in CPS away from well-funded public schools and towards privatized charters.

It’s a move that hasn't gone unnoticed in Chicago or across the nation. One of the city’s largest and most vocal supporters against diverting resources away from public schools, the Chicago Teachers Union, organized a protest last night that stretched into this morning.

Committed activists even slept outside the Board of Education headquarters, despite an overnight low temperature in the single digits.

That’s because, more and more, what’s happening with CPS and charters is gaining attention across the city and beyond. From aldermen to parents, community groups, hecklers and more, Chicagoans are becoming increasingly alarmed at the brazenness of Emanuel and his hand-picked school board when it comes to gutting public schools and prioritizing charters.

After all, it’s hard not to be. In a sea of good arguments for slowing down the land rush to charters, all you have to do is focus on one fact to understand many opponents’ ire: After closing 50 schools for being underutilized and saying there wasn’t enough money to keep them open, the Board is now considering opening privatized charters in many of the same neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, CPS schools continue to be starved for money, with the district saying it has to tap into surplus TIF dollars to hire enough teachers to comply with state requirements for daily physical education for students.

For fiscal year 2014, CPS has projected a reduction in salaries for teachers and staff of $148.8 million, while increasing the amount of money going to charter schools by $80 million.

All this amid news that data from the 2013-14 school year compiled by the parent group Raise Your Hand has discovered that 47 percent of CPS charter and contract schools had student populations below the CPS threshold for ideal enrollment.

Yet none of this seems to matter to Mayor Emanuel. Not today.

What matters to the mayor is that on a cold and snowy January day, he speaks to his city about tourism and the pleasures of a hotel that houses 210 deluxe guestrooms and five luxurious suites.

Meanwhile, those who care a little something about the notion of a well-funded public school system are left out in the cold.

After all, the Mayor has a busy schedule, and you can only fit so much into a day.
 

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