As mayoral candidates ramp up ad spending and flood the airways with commercials, education has been a common theme in their televised pitches to lead the city.
The brief ad spots catch the eye, but skate over many of the myriad serious issues facing Chicago Public Schools, with some exceptions.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle this week aired her third advertisement of election season, “Mrs. Preckwinkle,” which touts her experience in and personal attachment to the school district.
“Before she was alderman or county board president, to hundreds of CPS students she was Mrs. Preckwinkle,” a voiceover declares as a jovial Preckwinkle welcomes youngsters into a classroom and gives a talk while beaming.
The commercial highlights her stint as a high school history teacher before her political career, and reiterates her promises to fight for an elected school board and freeze school closings, because, a voiceover asserts, “to Toni Preckwinkle, education isn’t just policy, it’s personal.” The advertisement also highlights Preckwinkle’s efforts to reform the juvenile justice system and stem discipline that leads to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Last week, former school board President Gery Chico released on advertisement titled “Equalizer,” that focuses on his background both as a Chicago Public Schools student and district leader. “And when I led CPS, we built neighborhood schools, and student test scores rose,” Chico says. “We can do it again.” He said he’d lead the largest expansion of vocational and technical education “in history,” to ready students for good jobs or a college education.
In her first political advertisement of the campaign, Lori Lightfoot released an ad Wednesday touting her support for an elected school board. The ad also blasted Preckwinkle, Daley, and Mendoza for ties to Ald. Ed Burke, who faces federal charges of attempted extortion.
Bill Daley’s latest ad, released last week, doesn’t focus specifically on schools, although he visits one in the video, appearing to listen to a student standing outside a row of lockers.
Each of the candidates has tried to frame themselves as the mayor who’s best for Chicago schools.
But with school quality one of the biggest issues to Chicago voters, the sound bites and B-roll neglect specifics about how candidates would tackle critical problems facing Chicago Public Schools, like the crisis of plunging enrollment, the large inventory of vacant school buildings or the challenge of bolstering reading instruction to ensure students don’t join the ranks of adult Chicago residents who are functionally illiterate.
For a closer look at where the candidates stand on some of the school district’s big questions, read our Chalkbeat Chicago Voter Guide.