News and Commentary

Chicago Teachers Union Claims School Choice ‘Has A Racist History’
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 31: Braving snow and cold temperatures, thousands marched through the streets near City Hall during the 11th day of an ongoing teachers strike on October 31, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Union leadership has announced a tentative agreement on a new contract with Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but is refusing to return to work until paid teaching days lost during the strike are added to the year's school calendar. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)
Scott Heins/Getty Images

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) claimed that school choice and voucher programs are rooted in racism, despite evidence that points to the contrary. 

CTU’s official Twitter account stated, “‘School choice’ has a racist history. It hasn’t really improved with time.” The account proceeded to link to an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune that argued school choice has roots in racism.

The union represents over 25,000 Illinois teachers.  

Corey DeAngelis, the Director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation, dubbed the CTU’s narrative as false. He claims that many segregationists opposed programs — such as voucher programs — that would expand opportunities for minorities to learn. 

“Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire all have voucher programs that started in the 1800s,” DeAngelis said. “Some segregationists opposed school vouchers because they understood that funding students directly could expand educational opportunities and lead to integration.” 

Scholars have also argued that school choice programs “tend to reduce race and economic class segregation.”

However, the most compelling argument against school choice programs being racist, is that 89% of black Democratic primary voters support expanding “access to more choices and options within the public school system, including magnet schools, career academies, and public charter schools.” According to a survey of 2020 voters, Democrats for Education Reform found that  81% of voters — including 81% of Democratic primary voters — also support expanding school choice options. 

A 2019 EdChoice survey found that 85% of voters are in favor of education savings accounts (ESA), which let families access money typically funneled to school districts to spend on education-related expenses for their children. 78% of African Americans and 79% of Hispanic respondents were in favor of ESA programs as well. 

This is not the first online, public blunder the CTU made about race. In December 2020, the union decried reopening schools as sexist, racist, and misogynistic, despite evidence that school closures exacerbated racial inequality.  

“The push to reopen schools is rooted in sexism, racism, and misogyny,” the union said. 

Contrary to the union’s claims, studies suggest the COVID-19 school closures disproportionately harmed minority students. The data seems to bear out the point. A study of 4.4 million students found that test scores of black, Hispanic, and poor children took the biggest hit from school closures. Math scores of vulnerable students dropped up to 10 percentage points from last year.

The CTU issued a follow-up tweet in December arguing that their claims required more “nuance.” 

“Fair enough. Complex issue. Requires nuance,” the union said in a since-deleted tweet. “And much more discussion. Most important, the people the decision affects deserve more. So we’ll continue give [sic] them that. Appreciate the feedback of those truly in the struggle.”

The CTU has driven one of the most difficult bargaining campaigns against returning teachers to the classroom. Despite being some of the first in line to receive a vaccine, in February, many teachers voted to continue teaching remotely despite the school district’s plan to return K-8 students to the classroom. 

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