Watchdog files electioneering complaint against Chicago Teachers Union for using students in get-out-the-vote effort

A policy group in Illinois filed an ethics complaint with the Inspector General of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) alleging violations of school district rules by using students for an upcoming…

A policy group in Illinois filed an ethics complaint with the Inspector General of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) alleging violations of school district rules by using students for an upcoming election.

The complaint by the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) said that a Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) official sent out an email asking schools to supply students for get-out-the-vote operations in an upcoming election for a property tax increase.

“NEW: The Chicago Teachers Union is planning to take Chicago Public Schools students out of class this Friday to vote for Mayor Brandon Johnson’s $100 million real estate transfer tax hike,” Austin Berg, vice president of marketing at IPI, posted on X.

An attached screen shot of the email from CTU Vice President Jackson Potter asked schools to send students to the “Student Power Forum” and a “Parade to the Polls,” where students can march to an early voting site “making their voices heard along the way!”

Mailee Smith, senior director of labor policy and staff attorney at IPI, said using CPS resources to engage in electioneering is a violation of CPS rules

According to Section 503.1 of the CPS code of ethics adopted in August 2023, employees are prohibited from “preparing for, organizing, or participating in any political meeting, political rally, political demonstration, or other political event” during working hours.  

“This is an unethical use of taxpayer resources and inappropriate indoctrination of high school students,” Smith said. “Our team is exploring legal challenges. Mayor Brandon Johnson should denounce it in the strongest terms.”  

In the complaint letter to the CPS Inspector General, IPI noted that CTU is partnering with Bring Chicago Home, a controversial group running the tax increase initiative, which has ties to the mayor. 

“Bring Chicago Home is the leading political advocacy organization campaigning in favor of Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s $100 million real estate transfer tax increase referendum, which appears on the March 19 ballot,” said IPI in its complaint. “The union has contributed at least $200,000 to Bring Chicago Home. The union and its affiliates are Johnson’s largest campaign financiers, and the union is his former employer.” 

Bring Chicago Home has been criticized for its lack of transparency in a report by the non-partisan Civic Federation, which noted there is insufficient “oversight to ensure the money goes for its intended purpose,” which is ostensibly to house the homeless. 

IPI and the Civic Federation have said there is nothing in the upcoming ballot language about ensuring the city uses the money for housing the homeless.  

Critics worry it will really become a slush fund for the teachers’ union to build teacher housing in the city, hence the push by the union to get students out to vote and assist in electioneering. 

“In a city with money woes, a string of broken promises to taxpayers and the Chicago Teachers Union making massive demands,  such as housing funds for its members, that is concerning,” said IPI about the tax increase proposal.   

The CTU has countered the electioneering complaint by saying that since “its members include civic and government teachers, it has an obligation to provide students with an understanding of the democratic process,” according to local ABC News 7.  

But at least one political analyst isn’t buying that explanation. 

“The Chicago Teachers Union is a partisan organization; it supports political candidates and political causes, by its own, it is seen as a partisan event,” said ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington. 

Previously, The Lion reported on electioneering complaints in Denton, Texas, with school district officials using similar a rationale as the CTU for the alleged violations. 

“Denton ISD strives to create a culture of routine voting, and we believe that participating in the democratic process is every citizen’s civic duty,” the district claimed in a statement.