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Rahm Emanuel to send his 3 kids to private school this fall

 Inauguraticeremonies Rahm Emanuel City Council members more.    |  Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Inauguration ceremonies of Rahm Emanuel and City Council members and more. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: October 27, 2011 12:33AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has decided to send his three children to the University of Chicago Lab Schools rather than put them in the financially strapped Chicago Public Schools he’s trying desperately to reform.

Emanuel was in New York City to headline a round of campaign fund-raisers for President Barack Obama and couldn’t be reached for comment on his decision to choose an elite private school in Hyde Park where Obama’s daughters once went.

School officials would not comment. Sources close to the mayor confirmed the decision.

In a prepared statement, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was careful not to criticize Emanuel’s decision to send his kids to one of the city’s most elite private schools.

But Lewis said the mayor’s choice for his own children speaks volumes.

“The new mayor seems to recognize how school funding impacts school quality,’’ Lewis said.

“We understand why he would choose a school with small class sizes, a broad, rich curriculum that offers world languages, the arts and physical education, a focus on critical thinking not test-taking, a teacher and an assistant in every elementary classroom and paid, high-quality professional development for their teachers. It’s wonderful that he has that option available to him.’’

The question of whether the mayor’s kids would attend public schools has been a sensitive subject since December. That’s when Emanuel disclosed plans to double the number of teacher training academies but refused to commit to sending his own children to the city’s schools.

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico pounced on the issue during the campaign. Chico is a graduate of Kelly High School whose daughters graduated from Von Steuben High School and North Side Prep, the showcase school known to insiders as “Chico High” because it was built while Chico was serving as school board president.

“I am really committed because I’ve put my money where my mouth is that I will go to the Chicago Public Schools. My kids went there and I hope that my grandchildren go there. … I believe in the Chicago Public Schools,” Chico said at the time. “If you’re gonna run for the mayor of Chicago and you’re going to pronounce big plans for the Chicago Public Schools, I believe that a mayor has to have the conviction to want to get behind that program.”

Emanuel strongly disagreed then and has said so repeatedly ever since. Whenever the question is asked, he has refused to answer it, calling the school choice a private family decision that did not belong in the political arena.

“The decision I make on my children is one that [wife] Amy and I are gonna make as parents,” Emanuel has said. “We’ll discuss where our children go as parents. And I think the people of Chicago, as parents, will appreciate that.

“When it comes to your own children, you make a decision as a parent. I’m not saying I’m not. I’m not saying what I’m gonna do. … I do appreciate that all of you are now part of my family. But the family I’ll be deciding with is my own.”

In Chicago and in Washington, D.C., where Emanuel served as Obama’s White House chief of staff, Leah, Ilana and Zach Emanuel have attended private and Jewish schools.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, both sent their kids to private Catholic schools, even as the younger Daley championed reforms to improve the city’s public schools and attract a wide range of families.

Daley campaigned in 1989 on a promise to become Chicago’s “education mayor.” Months after he chose Lourdes Monteagudo as deputy mayor for education to carry out his platform, she was forced to resign after telling reporters she was sending her own child to the private North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka because Chicago’s schools were “not good enough.”

The University of Chicago Lab School is an elite, diverse and costly school that has long educated the children of Chicago’s rich, famous and clout-heavy. Annual tuition at the Hyde Park school ranges from $21,876 for grades 1-4 to $23,676 for grades 5-8 and $24,870 for high school students.

Like Daley, Emanuel has made school reform a primary focus of his first two months in office. Last month, the mayor defended the decision by his handpicked school board to cancel 4 percent pay raises for Chicago teachers, arguing that teachers have gotten two types of pay raises since 2003 while students got “the shaft.”

With a $712 million deficit, Emanuel said the board of education could not continue to honor a contract that satisfied everybody’s concerns but those of students.

“Just a little north of 50 percent of our kids graduate,” Emanuel said then. “Our scores haven’t moved. Yet, in all that time, not one additional minute of instructional time for the children of Chicago where they can be safe and learning. ... Our future — which is what this is about, the mission of education — our children got the shaft. ... I will not accept our children continuing to get the shaft.”

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