Chicago mayoral candidates have raked in millions of dollars in campaign contributions from various players inside and around the world of education, from charter school boosters to education reform backers to teachers unions.
An overwhelming portion of that money has gone to Bill Daley, Toni Preckwinkle, Gery Chico, Susana Mendoza, and Lori Lightfoot, in that order. Daley has out-fundraised the other candidates with $8.7 million followed by Preckwinkle at $4.6 million, a Chalkbeat analysis found. The list of frontrunners has been in flux, many voters are undecided, and different polls show different results, making for an uncertain and wide-open race.
Chalkbeat analyzed contributions reported to state elections officials through Feb. 20, examining the biggest donations and tracking gifts from major school and education-related groups, and highlighting individual donors with ties to those entities. Although the list is not exhaustive and donors support candidates for a variety of reasons, our list does provide a window into how different education interests feel about the crowded mayoral race.
The donations outlined here only reflect contributions to candidates and not to independent committees working to support some candidates or oppose others.
Teachers unions and other labor groups contributed at least $3 million, nearly all of which was to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU, one of the nation’s largest public worker unions. The SEIU, which represents school support staff like security officers, custodians, bus aides and some early education providers who receive public funding, contributed the bulk of that amount.
The American Federation of Teachers, Chicago Teachers Union, and the union that represents educators at Chicago’s City Colleges and other Cook County community college systems accounted for about $241,000 of that total.
Organizations, employees, and board members from the charter school sector contributed at least $831,000. Nearly two-thirds of the money — about $520,000 — went to former U.S. commerce secretary and former White House chief of staff Daley, including $60,000 from Noble Network of Charter Schools board members and $10,000 from the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, an influential pro-charter state lobbying group.
The charter school network’s PAC is funded in part by several members of the Walton family, of Walmart fame; local photographer and gallery owner David Weinberg and the Urhlaub family, who give generously to the Noble charter school network. (The Walton Family Foundation is a financial supporter of Chalkbeat; you can see all of our major supporters listed here).
Another political arm of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools is the group’s super PAC, the INCS Action Independent Committee, which has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to ad agencies and marketing firms working on campaigns. It is not clear which candidates, if any, this money benefits.
Daley, along with former schools chief Paul Vallas, is one of two mayoral candidates who said, for our Chalkbeat voter guide, that he would consider opening new charter schools. Chico, former Chicago school board president, received at least $211,000 from the INCS political action committee or affiliated organizations and board members of Chicago International and Noble charter networks.
At least 36 individual educators, students, and academics contributed about $122,000 to mayoral candidates, with Daley and Chico receiving the largest number of donations from school staff such as principals and administrators. Lori Lightfoot received several individual donations from academics affiliated with local universities such as Northwestern, Loyola and Columbia College Chicago.
People connected to the education technology sector and personalized learning — the use of technology and data to tailor education to individual students — gave at least $38,000 to mayoral candidates.
Daley received at least $35,000 from board members of LEAP Innovations, a nonprofit that works with Chicago schools to implement personalized learning technology. Lightfoot, the former president of the police board, received eight small donations from a LEAP board member totaling $1,150.
Here’s a closer look at some of the other donations and donors in the education realm.
- The biggest donation from an individual with ties to schools was $2 million to Daley from billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who sits on the board of directors of the Chicago Public Education Fund. The nonprofit organization helps support some critical aspects of district policy, such as principal training.
- Candidate Amara Enyia, a policy analyst and community organizer, received $400,000 from Chancelor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper. Bennett has contributed more than $4 million to school district arts programming through his SocialWorks organization since March 2017, when he wrote Chicago Public Schools a $1 million check.
- Wheels Inc. CEO Jim Frank, who sits on the boards of the Chicago Public Education Fund, the charter operator Intrinsic Schools, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, and Teach for America Chicago-Northwest Indiana, gave a total of $270,000. Of that, $145,000 went to Chico, $75,000 to Mendoza, and $50,000 to Daley.
- John A. Canning Jr., chairman of the investment firm Madison Dearborn Partners and board member of the Big Shoulders Fund, which raises money for Catholic schools across the city, gave $200,000 to Daley.
- Paul Finnegan, a co-CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners and a board member of Teach for America Chicago-Northwest Indiana, gave Daley $300,000.
- Meredith Bluhm, a board member of Teach for America’s regional chapter and the Latin School of Chicago, a private academy, donated $50,000 to Daley.
- Michael Milkie, the disgraced founder and former CEO of Noble Schools, gave $1,500 to Chico.
Are you ready to vote Tuesday? Find everything you need at Chi.vote, a one-stop shop for the Chicago election. Chalkbeat is a partner.