Jhatayn “Jay” Travis, who is challenging incumbent State Rep. Christian Mitchell in the 26th District Democratic primary, unveiled her education platform Wednesday morning flanked by public school parents, teachers and Chicago residents.
The group gathered in front of the now empty John Fiske Elementary school, located in Chicago’s West Woodlawn neighborhood. The school is one of 50 Chicago public schools that were shuttered last year.
“When schools close, the children in our neighborhoods lose,” said Travis, former executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “Our communities lose viable institutions. We can no longer allow school closings to go forward.”
The South Side native has been fighting against school closings since “before they became popular,” according to Travis' supporters.
Travis, who was “born, raised and educated” in the 26th District, said she worked with families and educators to stop the first wave of proposed school closings in Bronzeville last year. As a community organizer, she also helped get a non-binding elected school board referendum placed on the ballot in some Chicago precincts in November 2012. The mayor currently appoints the board, making it the only non-elected school board in the state.
Here is a look at Travis’ education platform, as provided by her campaign:
Revising the school funding formula to end disparities between rich and poor school districts and ensure that all schools can pay for the well-rounded curriculum, experienced teachers and wraparound supports that our children deserve.
Overturning mayoral control of the schools and installing an elected, representative school board in Chicago. Jay is the only candidate in the race who has consistently championed an elected school board. She believes strongly that school boards use taxpayer money and must be accountable to parents and taxpayers.
Supporting research-based strategies for sustainable school transformation. Jay will be a voice in Springfield for reason, oversight, and research when it comes to school reform. She is the only candidate in this race who has consistently fought to stop unproven and traumatic school closings, and she will continue to support strengthening – not closing – our neighborhood schools. Jay will also work proactively to increase transparency, stop the misappropriation of taxpayer dollars towards corrupt charter school operators, and invest in proven reforms.
Expanding access to higher education and workforce development. Jay led the state-wide coalition that passed Public Act 1225, which has created over 8,500 youth summer jobs and invested over $14 million in the communities hit hardest by unemployment. In Springfield she will continue to champion pathways to higher education and workforce development for young people across the state.
Travis argues that residents in the 26th District have been "let down" by incumbent Mitchell's "lack of leadership" on a number of education issues.
Community members asked Mitchell to sign on to a moratorium bill that could have put a stop to the latest round of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) closings, but Travis maintains that he “did nothing.”
“When they asked him at that time whether he supported a fully-elected, representative school board, he said ‘no’. Now he supports an elected, representative school board because he knows that we all support (one),” she continued. “He’s now following my lead, as I’ve been someone who’s worked on this issue for well over a decade.”
In response, Mitchell's campaign sent the follow statement to Progress Illinois:
Christian Mitchell has been a leading voice on education funding reform since before he became a state representative.
As a community organizer, he organized thousands of residents to speak out in favor of HB174, which would have generated billions of new dollars specifically earmarked for education, so that all children would receive their fair share of resources.
As a state representative, he has continued that fight – as a chief cosponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 32 – because he believes that the way to strengthen our schools and our communities going forward is to ensure that every child, regardless of ZIP code, has access to adequate funding for a high quality public education.
Further, Representative Mitchell is also a strong and vocal cosponsor of the fair tax proposal (HJRCA33), because he believes that that everyone ought to pay their fair share to adequately fund the investments in human services, education, and infrastructure, that make our state competitive.
Finally, Representative Mitchell is one of three cosponsors of HB2793, a bill to create an elected school board for the City of Chicago. Actions matter more than words, and on these issues, Representative Mitchell has been leading by example.
Groups including the People's Lobby and the Equality Illinois Political Action Committee have endorsed Mitchell, who has held the 26th District seat since January of last year. Mitchell previously worked as a community organizer with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL).
Mitchell and Travis are the only candidates in the Democratic primary race for the 26th District, which runs just parallel to the lake and stretches from the far South Side of Chicago to the near North Side. Republican Jacob 'Coby' Hakalir is also running for the 26th District seat.
Among Travis’ supporters is Shoneice Reynolds. She is the mother of Asean Johnson, the fourth grade student at Marcus Garvey Elementary School who gained national attention for speaking out against Chicago school closings.
“We are the 99 percent, and we need to get an organizer, not a career politician, but an organizer elected in Springfield for state representative of the 26th District,” Reynolds stressed. “(Travis is) going to fight for retirement and pensions. She’s going to fight for an elected school board, which Chicago desperately needs. She’s going to fight for education as a whole in our communities.”
Johnson, who joined the group at Fiske, said he and Travis met last year during a protest against Chicago school closings.
“I know I am not even old enough to vote, but I know that we need somebody in Springfield who’s going to stand up and fight for our schools so that we can have a better future,” he said.
Travis has garnered endorsements from AFSCME Council 31, Citizen Action Illinois, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union, according to her campaign.
When asked what she will specifically do, if elected, to advance her education platform in Springfield, Travis explained that there is already “some interest and energy” around the issues.
“I just think we just would need to work together strategically to lift those voices up,” she told Progress Illinois. “I think that the legislators that signed on [to the CPS school closure moratorium bill] heard from their constituents and knew that (school closings were) not the right thing to do. I think there’s strategically some work that legislators could do to help the speaker understand that this issue matters deeply to people in districts.”
Asked how she will get through to Chicago’s mayor about an elected school board, Travis noted that parents “from across this city have been vocal about this issue.”
“I think we just need to keep that momentum going to help the mayor understand that people in this city right now are demanding change,” she said.