PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday October 31st, 2014, 8:01pm

Vallas Criticizes Rauner's Position On Charter Schools, Education Issues

Paul Vallas, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate, talks with Progress Illinois about important issues at stake in the November gubernatorial election and his priorities for the lieutenant governor's office if elected.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate Paul Vallas, a former school executive, says he and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner have fundamentally different views on education reform.

Vallas is the former head of the Chicago Public Schools as well as the school districts in New Orleans and Philadelphia. He was most recently the schools chief in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

In the past as a school district leader, Vallas has promoted some controversial education reforms like charter school expansion, which Quinn opposes.

Both Rauner -- a millionaire venture capitalist who has been a leader in the corporate education reform movement -- and his running mate Wheaton councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti support charter school growth.

Although he has a pro-charter past, Vallas said he and Rauner "disagree fundamentally on charters," which are independently run but receive public money and often raise private funds through foundations and philanthropists.

"I think he views charters as the solution, where I don't," Vallas said. "I believe that you have to invest in traditional public schools, and you have to provide public schools with support in order to advance the cause of public education."

The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor also made it clear that he and Quinn see eye-to-eye on imposing a state moratorium on charter school expansion "until we've dealt with the issue of school funding."

"You will not solve the challenges that public education faces through charter schools," Vallas said. "We've got to invest in our traditional public schools if we're going to have an effective public education system. I've always felt that way. Always have."

Vallas stressed other differences between him and Rauner on education issues.

"He feels you can underfund schools. I don't," Vallas said. "Rauner has demonized teachers. I believe you can work in partnership with the teachers unions."

"I've never demonized the unions," Vallas said. "I certainly have never criticized teachers. I've negotiated five collective bargaining agreements with the teacher unions in my lifetime, and they've all involved getting negotiations done, on time, no arbitration, no strike, no threat of strike, teachers receiving additional compensation and working in partnership with the teachers" on educational improvements.

When it comes to the Rauner/Sanguinetti team, the Republicans hold the same views on education, but differ on some social issues. Sanguinetti, a lawyer and a Wheaton City Council woman since 2011, is anti-abortion, while Rauner claims he's pro-choice, though he backs parental notification for abortions involving minors.

Rauner and Sanguinetti maintain they would focus on fiscal, not social issues, if elected. Their campaign did not return an interview request for this story.

John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said the opposing views on abortion rights "would be a problem" for the Rauner/Sanguinetti team "if anybody knew" the running mates had different opinions.

"I don't think it's something that the average voter knows a thing about in terms of the difference between the two candidates," Jackson said. "I think it's clear that Rauner has tried to downplay the social issues from the get-go. He's put his wife front and center because she's somewhat more liberal or moderate on the social issues."

Sanguinetti also believes "in marriage with the traditional definition." Rauner, who hasn't specified his personal stance on same-sex marriage, has previously said he would have vetoed Illinois' marriage equality law if he were governor, arguing the issue should be decided by voters. Rauner now says he's "comfortable" with Illinois' marriage equality law and would not seek to change it.

Vallas, who said he and Quinn share the same values on social issues, said Rauner's "selection of his running mate was more about covering areas of perceived weakness so he could get through the Republican primary."

"I speculate that was the reason we basically have candidates with different views," he said.

On the campaign trail, the two lieutenant governor candidates have had distinct roles.

Vallas, who has been called Quinn's "attack dog" by the Rauner camp and political observers, has held news conferences without the governor, slamming the GOP gubernatorial candidate for his stance on the minimum wage as well as his budget plans and jobs record. He has also called attention to controversies surrounding the Republican's business background, including the troubled nursing home chain once under the control of Rauner's former equity firm GTCR.

For her part, Sanguinetti has mostly appeared at news conferences and events with Rauner. Her campaign role has reportedly focused on outreach to women and Latino voter organizations. Sanguinetti, who is of Cuban and Ecuadorian descent, is DuPage County chairwoman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly and a vice president of the Illinois Federation of Republican Women.

Vallas said he is not the governor's "attack dog," but rather his "watch dog."

"We ask a fundamental question: How can you be running as a businessman claiming that your business skills are going to improve the Illinois economy when you've been a profit taker and not a job creator," he said of Rauner. "Those are basic questions, and he has failed to answer those questions. So his response is to demonize us and to call us attack dogs. I would characterize myself as a watch dog ... I've been barking the questions that he has refused to answer about his pay-to-play history and about his business model, which appears to be all about profit and not about job creation.

"People need to understand that this is not some outsider riding to Illinois' rescue," Vallas continued. "This is a money insider who's paid to play in multiple states ... This is an individual whose whole economic model has been driven by profits, not jobs. His own model is about maximization of the profits by the owners and the executives. And if workers have to suffer by getting paid less or getting less benefits or individuals have to pay more for his products or, for that matter, if services have to suffer, it doesn't matter because he defines his success in terms of the dollars he makes."

Priorities for the Lieutenant Governor's Office

The state constitution does not outline official lieutenant governor duties, other than to succeed the governor if something happens to him or her. Still, the lieutenant governor has a number of responsibilities, explained Jackson.

For example, Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who is running for state comptroller, was "given major responsibilities by Pat Quinn in terms of representing the governor on education issues," Jackson noted. "Surely, Paul Vallas would continue that tradition. Sheila has stressed community colleges and universities and getting a workforce education plan into place. And there are a number of other statutory and a whole bunch of other responsibilities assigned by the governor."

"It's a busy office," Jackson continued. "It's an extension of the governor's office, and it is, to some extent, what the lieutenant governor wants to make of it."

If elected, Sanguinetti, who previously worked as an assistant attorney general under former Gov. Jim Ryan, says she would take over already-established lieutenant governor responsibilities, such as heading up Illinois' Rural Affairs Council.

"Aside from that, I will be working at the behest of the governor," Sanguinetti told the State Journal-Register, adding that she would take part in "whatever he needs to have me do as far as touring the state and reporting back to the governor as far as what I'm seeing with regard to agencies and where there is excess or whether there is not enough in way of manpower."

"I look forward to doing that," she added. "And as a former assistant attorney general, I've counseled a lot of units of government, so I feel very comfortable stepping into that role."

Vallas said Quinn selected him for lieutenant governor because he has experience in long-term financial planning and public policy. If elected, Vallas sees himself "as providing the governor with assistance in those two areas" and being "an integral part of the governor's cabinet."

In addition to his school executive experience, Vallas has held high-ranking budget and revenue positions in former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration before he was appointed as the city's public schools CEO in 1995. Before that, Vallas was an Illinois Senate staffer and previously headed the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission.

He also ran for governor in 2002 against the now-imprisoned Rod Blagojevich. Currently, he serves as a consultant for the government restructuring and reorganization firm DSI Civic Financial Restructuring, LLC.

"Having a firm understanding of public policy, and being able to distinguish between what policies are effective and not effective and holding agencies accountable for the implementation of those policies, I think those are really important skills," Vallas said.

When asked what educational issues he would focus on if elected lieutenant governor, Vallas listed five key priorities: ensuring schools are adequately funded; implementing universal job training and "cradle to classroom" initatives involving prenatal care, access to early learning opportunities and parent supports; increasing funding for community colleges; and making state university tuition more affordable.

Meanwhile, some argue that the state's lieutenant governor's office is unnecessary and it should be eliminated.

Vallas said the office should not be abolished, but made more effective. Playing a leadership role when it comes to accountability, financial planning and policy development "will ensure that the lieutenant governor's office is a real asset," he said, adding that "Otherwise, it can be a superfluous office."

Image: AP/M. Spencer Green

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