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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

School Choice Rahm style: It’s the U. of C. Lab School for His Kids

The mayor goes with the University of Chicago’s elite private school, getting testy when asked about it… and perhaps reveals his greater political ambitions.

Making the choice to send their children to the University of Chicago Laboratory School was a canny one  for the Emanuels because the school carries the patina of great, urban university “lab” school, as opposed to the perception of wealth and privilege carried by Francis Parker and Latin, both independent private schools.

Still, I’d wager if there were a high-ranked private Jewish day school that would carry the Emanuel kids through 12th grade—equivalent to St. Ignatius, where Mayor Richard J. Daley sent Bill and John, or Loyola Academy—the Emanuels would have happily sent their children there; if, for no other reason, than selecting a religious school would take the onus of rejecting public schools off the new Mayor’s back.

When  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, infamous for his testy relationship with teachers and their union, was asked recently—on a televised ask-the-governor show, Christie: On the Line—about his children attending private schools, he became enraged, told the questioner that it was none of her business.  But he quickly justified the decision by invoking his and his wife’s desire for a religious education for their children, noting that his children attend “parochial [Catholic] school.”

Rahm’s outburst Wednesday at WMAQ political reporter Mary Ann Ahern seemed more high-pitched, uglier and personal. The rookie mayor didn’t have the religious justification to fall back on.

Oh, another  thing about Lab—its teachers are unionized and they do have a prickly relationship with the school administration. When  I visited the school in the early 1980s to interview for a story I was writing for Chicago comparing the top three private schools in Chicago—Lab, Parker and Latin—I interviewed teachers wearing large union buttons as the school then teetered on the precipice of a strike.

Working in the Emanuels’ favor: Lab is highly diverse. I still remember a quote from a woman who sent her daughters there.  “My daughter’s class looks like the United Nations,” she said, and then named eight countries that were represented in her daughter’s class—and they weren’t in Western Europe.

When Rahm runs again for Mayor or if he pursues the presidency he’ll lose few votes because his children went to private school. After President Obama’s November 2008 victory, Michelle made a point of saying that she and the President-elect were considering D.C. public schools, but they predictably enrolled Malia and Sasha in Sidwell Friends. The story quickly died. In 2012 Obama will lose next to no votes for that choice, just as Bill and Hillary Clinton nicely survived their decision to send Chelsea to Sidwell. (Jimmy Carter, who high-mindedly chastised the Clintons for not following his example of sending Amy to DC public schools, lost his bid for reelection.)

And if Rahm loses votes for whatever office he runs for next, they won’t be many, and they will probably be voters who wouldn’t have voted for him anyway.

I believe Rahm’s next goal will be the Presidency, and in his WMAQ blowup he probably inadvertently revealed the political level at which he sees himself. According to Ahern, “He said other children of public figures—Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls—have been kept out of the public eye, despite media attention on the admission to the Sidwell Friends Academy in Washington D.C.”

Hey, Rahm, you’re the mayor, not the president, and this is Chicago not the nation’s capital.

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