Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner was forced to issue an apology Thursday for contending in an email sent in 2011 that half of Chicago Public Schools teachers "are virtually illiterate" and half of its principals are "incompetent."
Rauner's assertion was revealed Thursday in emails Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration released under a court order.
At the time, Rauner, who was elected in 2014, was a private equity executive and a large donor to the Chicago Public Education Fund, an education reform group. He was discussing future investments by the fund with other billionaire board members, including hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, Ariel investments president Mellody Hobson, businesswoman and current U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and Helen Zell, whose husband's lucrative real estate dealings funded her family foundation.
In discussing reform in his Dec. 11, 2011, email, Rauner said teacher evaluation is critically important, "but in a massive bureaucracy with a hostile union, where 50% of principals are managerially incompetent and half of teachers are virtually illiterate, a complex multi-dimensional evaluation system with huge subjectivity in it will be attacked, manipulated and marginalized - the status quo will prevail."
Rauner spokesman Lance Trover released a statement Thursday saying the email was sent out of frustration at the pace of change in the public school system.
"The governor regrets writing it and apologizes to CPS educators for making an unfair, untrue comment," the statement said, adding that the email was written "prior to being governor."
Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on the Rauner email.
The Chicago Tribune sought the emails in connection with its reporting about a CPS principal training program at the center of former district Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett's federal fraud conviction last year.
Emanuel previously either redacted some of the messages or withheld them entirely. The Tribune, sued and this week Cook County Circuit Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled the mayor's office violated Illinois' open records laws and ordered City Hall to turn over the emails.
Rauner, a Republican, has been a frequent public critic of the teachers union and its members since sending the email. During a 2012 teachers strike, Rauner penned an opinion piece for the Tribune saying the strike "provides us all with a clear opportunity to examine the grossly inadequate performances of many public school teachers and highlight and reward the great performances of other teachers."
Rauner said he sat in a CPS math class and watched division being taught incorrectly, and saw standardized test scores of CPS teachers that "indicate many of them aren't even capable of scoring 21 on the ACT."