Stacy Davis Gates, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, has been the subject of significant backlash after a local newspaper revealed that she is sending her son to a private high school despite her ardent opposition to school choice.
Gates has defended opting to take her son out of the public school system by citing the poor quality of education available to families in the South and West sides of the city — the very same argument proponents of school choice have made for years.
“It was a very difficult decision for us because there is not a lot to offer Black youth who are entering high school” in Chicago,” Gates said.
“In many of our schools on the South Side and the West Side, the course offerings are very marginal and limited. Then the other thing, and it was a very strong priority, was his ability to participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities, which quite frankly, don’t exist in many of the schools, high schools in particular,” she said.
Last month, Gates was asked in an interview if she had any concerns about supporters of school-choice and privatization running for the Chicago school board. In response, she said: “Yes, we are concerned about the encroachment of fascists in Chicago.”
The Illinois Policy Institute — a state-based nonpartisan organization — recently published an analysis of the situation, arguing that the majority of the criticism which has been directed towards Gates is the result of her simultaneously securing a better education for her son while denying other families the same opportunity.
“This isn’t a criticism of the decision to send a child to an alternative school. Parents must seek what’s best for their children,” they wrote. “What’s offensive is teachers union leaders denying better educational choices for parents who, unlike Davis Gates, have neither the resources nor the connections to find better alternatives for their children to the failing and often unsafe neighborhood public school.”
Gates has previously argued that school choice policies, such as charter schools and voucher programs, contribute to a lack of funding for public schools in less privileged areas, including her own neighborhood in the South side of Chicago.
“Our neighborhoods have basically been robbed of everything,” Gates has said.
Gates explained that a major factor in her decision to send her son to a private school was his desire to play soccer — an option not available at his local public school.
Her two younger children currently attend elementary school within the public education system.
Gates has since released a statement to educators in the Chicago Teachers Union responding to the criticisms she has received recently.
“Regrettably, whether you are an ardent supporter of building and investing in more high-quality neighborhood public schools or believe in ‘school choice,’ we can all agree that options for Black students, their families and entire Black communities on this city’s South and West Sides are limited,” she wrote. “That is precisely why CTU members have struck, organized, and worked hard to change our city.”
“While our fights and continued advocacy have secured more school resources, the inequities remain alarming,” Gates said.
“Public and charter high schools in our Black and Brown neighborhoods are living and breathing examples of inequality,” Gates wrote. “Nearly all lack the thriving extracurricular activities, sports programs, wraparound services or other ingredients that make for a high-quality neighborhood public school.”
“Our critics want you to believe that ‘school choice’ is a black-and-white issue that lacks nuance and hard choices for people like us, Black families-especially when you are parenting a Black boy in America,” Gates said.
“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, even as his two sisters remain in Chicago Public Schools,” she wrote.
“In Chicago, we have repeatedly witnessed the same school-choice operators who want to call me a hypocrite take action to shortchange students, engage in fraudulent practices and provide substandard services to Black and Brown families,” Gates said.
“Sadly, when we have stood up to fight for students in our communities — at district, charter or private schools — CTU educators, parents and students from the harmed communities are the only voices you hear while the right-wing, ‘school-choice’ movement goes silent, which is a silence that speaks volumes,” she said.
The Illinois Policy Institute’s analysis of the controversy over Gates’ decision concluded with the following statement:
“It’s clear CTU is hypocritical in choosing private education options for their own children while denying the same to low-income families, mainly Black and Latino. CTU efforts obstruct opportunities for these families to access quality education, even within the realm of public charter schools. But for the likes of Stacy Davis Gates, her attitude seems to be, ‘I’ve got mine.'”