Chicago public schools are going through some rough times right now. The city is projecting a $1.1 billion budget deficit for the next school year, largely due to teacher-pension payments. On Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced $200 million in budget cuts and 1,400 staff layoffs. Many of the cuts will come from the central office, although high schools will also open and close 45 minutes later to save on transportation costs, and funding for elementary-school sports teams will be eliminated. The city is asking for state support and planning to raise taxes to help get rid of the deficit.
At an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Thursday, Emanuel was defiant. “Everybody’s going to hate what they’ve got to do,” he said. But the budget arrangement is “what we call a grand bargain, or a fair deal.”
During his four years as mayor, Emanuel has focused much of his efforts of Chicago’s schools, but not always with the support of teachers and school leaders. A multi-day teachers’ strike shut down the city’s public schools in 2012, and the Chicago Teachers Union led a push against him in the 2015 mayoral race, helping to force a run-off against a relatively unknown opponent, Jesus G. Garcia. On Thursday, Emanuel made it clear that he harbors no love for the education-reform movement. For example, he said, the common debate that pits public schools versus charters is “nuts.”