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Chicago Mayoral Debate Presents Stark Choice On Education

The first debate of Chicago’s runoff mayor’s race couldn’t have painted a starker contest between the two candidates. Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner whose day job is to be a union organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, went up against Paul Vallas, who has previously run school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, where after Hurricane Katrina he reconfigured the city’s education system so that it is solely made up of independent, non-profit charter schools.

Johnson refused to engage Vallas on his criticism of Chicago public schools, where only 6 percent of black children are proficient in math and only 11 percent in reading. This is despite the city spending $30,000 per pupil.

Instead, he accused Vallas of wanting to “eliminate” Black History from Chicago schools and once said in 2009 that his views leaned more Republican than Democrat.

Vallas has since run for Lt. Governor of Illinois and for Chicago Mayor – as a Democrat.

Johnson was asked if there was any issue on which he disagreed with the Chicago Teacher Union. He declined to answer other than to say “Once I’m mayor of the city of Chicago, I will no longer be a member of the Chicago Teachers Union.” Right, he’ll just be a wholly-owned subsidiary.

Vallas said Johnson’s response wasn’t good enough. He pointed out that he was fully supportive of “shutting down of the poorest school districts in the county for 15 months and three times threatening to strike to keep those schools closed.”

The campaign between now and April 4 promises to be a bitter and hard-fought one. Vallas begins with a double-digit lead, but nothing less than the survival of Chicago may hinge on the outcome.

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