By Pat Hughes
Last week we watched in dismay, but not surprise, as another Illinois bureaucrat found herself unable to outrun corruption charges. Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over as chief of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) three years ago. She was hailed by the Chicago ruling class as a skilled administrator who was going to help the Emanuel administration turn around a system plagued by a recent teacher’s strike, huge budget deficits and pending school closings.
Byrd-Bennett, the mayor’s handpicked appointment, became Illinois’ Corrupt Public Official Du Jour, indicted for misusing her office to provide generous contracts to friends and political insiders at the expense of the children in CPS and families throughout the state.
The City of Chicago and its school system have been the exemplification of public abuse and widespread corruption for decades. The district is now too broke to fund their teachers’ retirements. In fact, CPS teachers are now being told to consider themselves lucky if they get to keep their jobs. More critically, each year almost 400,000 children are sent into a school district that will fail to bring a majority of them to grade level achievement by June. Of those students who do graduate high school, less than 10 percent of them will be considered “college ready.” This is despite a steady rise in spending – sixty percent – over the past two decades.
To say CPS is a failed system in need of structural change is an understatement. In Chicago, and throughout the state, we see corruption, group-think, cronyism, and political cover-ups sprawling through numerous public systems. Families are suffering. Businesses face fixed uncertainty. People are leaving in droves. At no time have independent thought, political courage and social risk been more necessary.
At the Illinois Opportunity Project, we maintain the position that to have any hope of seeing the kind of structural change that is needed, we have to change our leadership. We believe that Byrd-Bennett, and corrupt bureaucrats like her, are the old guard. We believe that the state is moving in a different direction, one that is responsive to voters who are demanding a new brand of leadership. That is why we work diligently to identify and develop principled, independent thinkers to fill leadership roles in state and municipal government across the state.
We are asking you to join this fight by donating $25, $50, or $100, or contact us to become an advocate in your community. Help us fight for leaders whose core principles provide the possibility of a better, brighter future for the children in Chicago – and elsewhere – who are trapped in failing schools, as well as the families and businesses who are stuck footing the bill for corrupt government officials only interested in maintaining the failed status quo.