Opinion: Quinn Campaign Muzzles Paul Vallas

The Democratic incumbent's running mate has a checkered history.

Inquiring minds want to know why Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has muzzled running mate Paul Vallas from publicly discussing his charter school past.

The Chicago Sun-Times' Dan Mihalopoulos has detailed striking comparisons in the education policies of Democratic Vallas and Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, who's running against Quinn for governor. Both men have championed the growth of charter schools and Vallas has built a high-profile (though flawed) personal brand as an alleged savior of America's broken education system.

Vallas was CEO of Chicago Public Schools for six years before jumping in the early aughts to similar posts in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Conn., where he flamed out fast after a state judge disputed his leadership qualifications and demanded he leave office immediately last summer. Shortly thereafter, Quinn enlisted Vallas as his candidate for lieutenant governor.

Quinn's campaign declined to make Vallas available for interviews on his efforts to turn around failing urban districts, prompting Mihalopoulos to opine: "That’s too bad. Teachers at least should demand to know why Quinn, who claims to be so different from Rauner, would chose a running mate with a track record featuring so much that Rauner heartily embraces."

Education is a divisive issue, especially in Chicago, where charters -- privately run but publicly financed -- have come under fire from the city's powerful teachers' union and high-profile public school activists like Diane Ravitch, who recently questioned Quinn's decision to recruit Vallas in an open letter.

"Vallas once headed the Chicago schools. He headed the Philadelphia schools, where he launched a major experiment in privatization, which was widely judged a failure," she wrote. "He left Philadelphia with a large deficit. He then was selected to take over the New Orleans district after Hurricane Katrina. Public education was almost wiped out, along with the teachers’ union. Vallas took credit for installing the largest privately managed charter system in the nation."

Back in March, Quinn gave an interview stating that Vallas "believes in public education. So do I. We believe in funding public education. A very, very important issue this year, we’ll be talking about that soon. ... He’s committed to a fair, open budget to properly fund education."

Vallas, meanwhile, has long harbored ambitions to lead the Land of Lincoln. He narrowly lost to disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in Illinois' Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2002 and later toyed with the idea of launching another bid for Springfield's top gig.

Camp Quinn is most certainly aware that his incumbency could be threatened by Vallas' pro-charter history -- hence the radio silence on the subject. But if Vallas has indeed changed his views on education, Illinoisians -- teachers especially -- deserve some explanation. It's time to choose transparency over politics.

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