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Carol Felsenthal

Carol Felsenthal

Posted: August 14, 2009 04:47 PM

Clouting Kids Into Public Magnet Schools? Mayor Daley Boasts of Sending His Kids to Private Schools


Add a federal investigation into adults clouting kids into Chicago's selective enrollment magnet schools to the city and state's pile of corruption -- a kind of local version of the University of Illinois admissions scandal.

Asked about Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) calling the principal of the first and most celebrated of the city's selective magnet schools -- Michelle Obama went there -- Mayor Daley responded in his usual entertaining manner.

Nothing wrong with a father trying to open doors for his daughter, Daley said (she reportedly didn't have the test scores to get in to Whitney Young). What's wrong with the alderman, who as a member of the City Council does, in fact, have some power over city schools' funding lobbying on his daughter's behalf?

Daley argued, wrongly, that Munoz had no power of the purse over the city's public schools: "He's not putting undue pressure, like threatening with their budget...He doesn't control their money....He doesn't veto anything." But the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman described two ways in which Munoz does: approval of the Board of Education's property-tax levy and ratification of the mayor's appointment of members of the school board.

Munoz admittedly telephoned Whitney Young principal Joyce Kenner. Munoz's son was then a senior at the school, so how about taking his younger sister? (Siblings do get some preference but only if the siblings would attend at the same time; Munoz' son graduated last June and his daughter is slated to start in September.) Kenner admitted the daughter under a program called Principal's Choice, in some ways akin to the U of I's category I list. (The principals can select five percent of the entering class.)

The Mayor's father, Richard J. Daley, once famously sputtered that if reporters have a problem with a father helping his own kids -- think, for starters, son John and the insurance business -- they could kiss his ass. The late mayor's exact words: "If they don't like it, they can kiss my ass."

The son, Richard M. was, in defending Munoz, making a similar point.

Asked if he had ever clouted a kid into the magnet schools, Daley said he had not. It was then that he explained that his kids went to private schools and not the Chicago public schools. They attended Francis Xavier Warde, he said, and the University of Chicago Lab school, where the Obama kids went.*

Leave it to Daley, the mayor of a large city with a failing school system. The magnet schools do not fail their students and so parents who cannot afford private schools or, on principle, don't want to send their kids to private schools, are desperate for the small number of spots in these public schools. Mayors of big cities do not usually bring up the fact that their own children do not attend the public schools in the cities they lead. (The Mayor and his siblings went, for the most part, to private and parochial Catholic schools.)

A side note: The Obamas faced a delicate situation when they moved to the White House and were beseeched in editorials to give a boost to the D.C. public schools by sending their daughters there. (The head of that school system sends her daughters to D.C. public schools.) They chose instead to send Malia and Sasha to the private Sidwell Friends where Al Gore sent his son and Bill Clinton sent his daughter. No surprise there. Jimmy Carter was the last president to send a child -- Amy -- to the D.C. public schools.

I watched with interest where Arne Duncan, Daley's former public schools head and now Obama's Secretary of Education, would send his two children. Had the new Secretary of Education -- on board with the policy of ending vouchers that allow a small number of low-income Washingtonians to send their children to schools such as Sidwell Friends -- selected Sidwell, there would have been an uproar. Duncan and his wife moved to suburban Virginia and enrolled his young children in the perfectly acceptable school system there.

*Correction: The post originally stated, incorrectly, that Duncan sent his children to private school in Chicago.