The head of the Chicago Teachers Union who has described school choice as “the choice of racists” sends her son to a private school.
Stacy Davis Gates, who was elected as president of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2022, has long derided school choice—a wide range of policies that make it easier for parents to send their children to schools other than their local public school, often by getting back some of the government funding that would have followed their child to public school—as inherently racist.
“*School choice* was actually the choice of racists,” Gates tweeted in August 2022. “It was created to avoid integrating schools with Black children. Now it’s the civil rights struggle of our generation?”
In a letter she wrote earlier this month, Gates explained her decision to enroll her son in a private school while her other two children remained in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Chicago classrooms are “struggling to recover from waves of school closings and disinvestment under previous mayors. Public and charter high schools in our Black and Brown neighborhoods are living and breathing examples of inequality,” she wrote. “For my husband and me, it forced us to send our son, after years of attending a public school, to a private high school so he could live out his dream of being a soccer player while also having a curriculum that can meet his social and emotional needs.”
This excuse misses key context. While Gates is right that school systems across the nation, including in Chicago, are still reeling from pandemic-era setbacks, she herself led the charge to keep Chicago Public Schools closed sporadically as late as early 2022. When CPS announced a two-week shutdown in January 2022, Gates told The New York Times that the closure was necessary for schools to “get themselves together.”
Gates also frames CPS as underfunded, describing “decades of systemic underinvestment in marginalized communities.” However, over the past five academic years, CPS’ operating budget has actually skyrocketed—increasing from $5.92 billion to $8.49 billion, despite enrollment dropping by nearly 40,000 students over the same period.
Further, in consistently framing school choice advocates as racist, Gates also ignores the fact that minority parents are often the strongest supporters of school choice. According to a RealClear Opinion Research poll from earlier this summer, 73 percent of black respondents supported school choice, the highest of any demographic group. At least 70 percent of other demographic groups also support school choice policies.
But Gates is correct about a core part of her justification for sending her child to a private school: CPS is failing to serve families and students. Despite spending an eye-popping $29,000 per pupil, three-quarters of CPS students failed to meet state standards in a reading test this year. Over 80 percent failed to meet state standards in math.
“You are making a choice because perhaps, I assume, you can afford to do that, that a lot of Chicago parents don’t because they can’t afford it,” CNN Primetime host Abby Phillip told Gates during an interview last week. “Proponents of school choice say the state should have a role in helping those families who can’t afford it make the same choice that you did for your family.”
“The school choice movement was a cudgel for integration in this country, that is a fact,” Gates responded.
Gates understandably wants her son to have the opportunity to attend the best school for him to, as she put it, “live out his dream.” But she doesn’t seem to see a problem with denying other parents that same choice—or framing them as collaborating with racists for doing so.