Earlier this month, it was revealed Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates was sending her son to a private school. The news incited a right-wing media frenzy calling out Davis Gates for “hypocrisy.” But this right-wing sensationalism and scandalization isn’t about hypocrisy; it is about the right wing and its allies promoting their harmful school choice agenda just as its local flagship program Invest in Kids is scheduled to sunset.
Subx.News broke the story about Davis Gates’ child attending private school with a post by former CTU employee and Subx founder and editor John Kugler. Kugler’s post doxed Davis Gates’ son, releasing personal details including his name, high school, and a current photo. Kugler doxing a child is alarming, but so are all the entries he’s posted to the blog since December 2021.
While several posts are dedicated to fearmongering about Chicago crime or promoting pro-police propaganda, almost half of his posts are obsessive attempts to take down Mayor Brandon Johnson, Stacy Davis Gates and CTU.
Unfortunately, Kugler’s unhinged hyperactivity isn’t fringe: it’s standard for today’s conservatives, and is arguably even enabled by mainstream corporate right-leaning media. So it’s no wonder news of Davis Gates’ son’s private school enrollment went national and was a headline in outlets such as Fox News, the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, all owned by News Corp, the media behemoth founded by conservative Rupert Murdoch.
Locally, the Chicago Tribune seized the opportunity to continue its ongoing attacks on Stacy Davis Gates and the CTU. The Tribune has been spiraling into right-wing territory. Certainly the paper has been in questionable hands since its May 2021 acquisition by Alden Global Capital, a shady hedge fund founded by Trump donor Randal Smith and known for buying and gutting newsrooms.
The Tribune has given pages of ink to Paul Vallas, a school-choice proponent who lost the 2023 municipal election to Johnson. Vallas’s most recent contribution to the Tribune’s Editorial Page takes umbrage with commentary by Davis Gates that he ascertains was aimed at “school choice supporters” and charges the CTU, Davis Gates and Mayor Johnson with perpetuating institutional racism in education by challenging school choice.
In recent social media posts, Vallas has called out Davis Gates’ “hypocrisy” for choosing to send her child to private school while opposing school choice—a catchphrase for laws that allow parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools. Indeed, it remains shocking that Vallas is still given any credibility or platform after disastrous tenures as an educational reformer across the globe. With Vallas’s track record of decimating public school systems and privatizing education, it is no shock Vallas is joining in exploiting this recent news about Davis Gates and her son’s education to promote their cause célèbre: school choice.
The scandalization of Davis Gates’ son’s private school enrollment has revealed problematic double standards. While mayor presiding over historic school closures, Rahm Emanuel refused to tolerate queries about enrolling his children in private schools. Emanuel stated it was a “private” and “family” decision and demanded his personal life be kept separate from his mayorship. By and large, local media and politicians did just that. But this has not been the case with Davis Gates and her family who have become targets for unbridled racial hostility and right-wing selective outrage.
Never mind that Davis Gates still has her two other children enrolled in CPS schools, or that she stated her son’s enrollment at a private school is a matter of circumstance: he wants to pursue soccer and there is a lack of competitive soccer programs, much less adequately resourced schools in the Davis Gates family’s neighborhood. For Vallas and the right-wing writ large this is “hypocrisy,” “immoral,” and “not exactly a vote of confidence.”
But what is so hypocritical? Hasn’t Davis Gates and CTU been exclaiming CPS schools are not adequately resourced? Isn’t a quality education that includes robust extracurricular programming for the Black and Latinx youth who populate CPS exactly what CTU has been fighting to secure so other parents won’t be put in Davis Gates’s position?
Davis Gates’ enrollment of her child at a private high school doesn’t read as hypocrisy as much as it does as evidence for the claims that Davis Gates, CTU and Black and Brown families and communities have been making for years about public schools.
But in these polarized political times, critical analysis, nuance, and facts are hardly factored into the kind of mob mentality that has come to define the right wing. The right wing will cannibalize what they can to further their agenda—right now, that means a messy and manipulative conflation with Davis Gates making the difficult choice where to send her child to school with their school choice movement.
It’s important to be clear: Choosing where to send a child to school is not congruent with “school choice.” School choice is a right-wing conservative agenda that has attempted to divert monies from public schooling to alternatives, mostly through vouchers in which the state pays for private school tuition. (Although more recently, the “school choice movement” has relied on Education Savings Accounts that give money directly to parents to fund educational alternatives for their children.)
The “freedom” of school choice is hardly rooted in liberation. The origins of the school choice movement date back to the 1950s with economist Milton Friedman, who thought throwing education to the capitalist free-market wolves would save it from government monopoly.
School choice quickly rallied white people who wanted to exit public schools as they were being desegregated, as well as religious families and, of course, a capitalist class excited about the wealth to be extracted from making education a private enterprise and terrain of market competition.
For decades, the school choice movement has been propelled by conservative, Republican, and right-wing donors. Defunding public schools vis-à-vis “school choice” has been their focus and that’s no coincidence when racial minority youth populate public education in cities across the U.S.
Their “school choice” movement has become reinvigorated in recent years as the right-wing takes issue with public schools becoming another site for their war against accurate history, gun control, queer and trans people and youth, and sex education and reproductive rights.
The right wing’s investment in school choice is just another frontline in their battle to seize and reshape every aspect of life-in-common according to their extremist vision. In Chicago and Illinois, school choice has taken hold not just through charter schools but also through the Invest in Kids Act. The Invest In Kids Act was passed in 2017 under then-Governor Bruce Rauner and since then has quietly diverted over $250 million dollars from underfunded public schools to private institutions.
Programs like Invest In Kids don’t save youth from “failing” public schools, since research shows voucher programs do not improve academic outcomes and put students in learning environments with little curriculum oversight. Additionally, discrimination on the basis of religion, disability, and sexual orientation is an issue in schools benefiting from voucher programs, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.
When passed, the Invest in Kids Act was supposed to last five years and end after this school year; it was already extended for an additional year. The right wing wants to expand the Invest In Kids program and make it the perpetual law of the land—and wouldn’t you know it, their last chance is right around the corner, when the Illinois General Assembly will vote on it in October and November.
So the hysteria around Davis Gates enrolling her son isn’t about ethics or hypocrisy. It’s about the right wing trying to seize and twist a moment to campaign for their ongoing war against public education. Don’t let them fool you or think otherwise.
Whether her son attends private or public school, Stacy Davis Gates will still be leading our city’s teachers and fighting for quality schools for our Black and Brown youth.
Ricardo Gamboa is a long-time Chicago artist and activist and works in film and television. Gamboa recently worked for three seasons as a writer and producer for Showtime’s The Chi. They are also pursuing their doctoral degree of American Studies in New York.