Take 5: Pension funds, sports inequities, boys left behind

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City Hall insiders are whispering about the possibility of paying juts a fraction of the $634 million the city owes the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund before the end of June.

City Hall insiders are whispering about the possibility of paying juts a fraction of the $634 million the city owes the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund before the end of June.

Money from the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund (CTPF) has gone to financial firms belonging to some of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s friends and top donors, according to a story in the International Business Times this week. Executives at just two of these firms — including one affiliated with Gov. Bruce Rauner — have donated nearly $1.8 million to Emanuel’s campaign and political organizations since 2011.

The financial publication argues that this flies in the face of the mayor’s own executive order preventing donors from receiving city business. In addition, the transactions may violate federal Securities and Exchange Commission rules designed to prohibit campaign contributions to city officials from executives at firms managing city pension money.

Money flowed to the firms — Grosvenor Capital Management and Madison Dearborn — through what’s called “fund-of-fund vehicles,” in which the “pension system moves money to one financial company, which then distributes it to a portfolio of other investment firms,” according to the story. These funds have often been criticized for having double layers of fees, although the Grosvenor CEO says the pension system does not pay fees to the firm. Both the mayor and the CTPF, whose trustees include teachers and school board members, declined to comment.

 2. Speaking of money … U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is in town today to dub Chicago the nation’s first “model city” for financial education, the Tribune reports. The designation honors a city plan that is still being developed to teach residents about better managing their own money, starting at a very young age.  It will be piloted this fall and involves some 135  organizations, both private and public, as well as government agencies and CPS.

Marty Moe, the district’s social science manager, tells the Tribune that current financial education efforts in schools are highly fractured and inconsistent. The new plan — which will also depend on sponsorships –“will allow us to coordinate all these different projects,” Moe said.

But critics worry about how these financial education efforts are funded — often by megabanks and investment firms — and say they haven’t been proved to work. “They don’t result in long-lasting knowledge, don’t change consumer behavior and won’t help the average person understand details of a 100-page mortgage contract or the pitfalls of a variable annuity, critics say.”

3. Sports envy… Schurz High Principal Dan Kramer is giving up on his dreams to take over a portion of Waveland Avenue with a soccer field, according to DNAinfo. Kramer says he started pushing for a new soccer field because during his morning commute, he drove past Lane Tech High School, which has impressive sports facilities. He decided he really, really wanted something like that for his students and put together a proposal. His big mistake, he tells DNAinfo, is that he didn’t vet the proposal with the community. The discussion about shutting down the street became a hot button issue in the recent aldermanic election.

The difference in the Lane campus vs. the Schurz campus may speak to systemic inequities when it comes to sport facilities. CPS does not have any information about what exists at what school, but the capital budget shows that more than $5 million has been invested in Lane’s sports facilities since 2009, while not a penny has gone toward Schurz.

 4. Prison ripple effect… Education Week dug into the myriad ways that having an incarcerated parent can affect students, and spotlighted some organizations trying to help. Heavily citing the 2014 book Children of the Prison Boom, the piece paints a broad array of academic setbacks, both practical and psychological, incurred on students with family members who are locked up. It found children of incarcerated parents have higher rates of attention deficits than those with parents missing because of death or divorce, plus higher rates of behavioral problems and developmental delays. But perhaps the most staggering fact unearthed is that just 1 percent to 2 percent of students with incarcerated mothers and 13 to 25 percent of students with imprisoned fathers graduate from college.

A core basis of Children of the Prison Boom’s findings was a study conducted in Chicago. Commissioned by the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, the study found that children with incarcerated parents are not only 30 percent more likely to exhibit behavioral issues, but significantly more likely to face domestic violence at home. All of the studies were underscored by the inescapable–and growing–racial disparity that comes with incarceration. Authors found that  one-quarter of black children born in 1990 had a parent in jail or prison by the time the child was age 14—that’s more than double the rate for black children born in 1978.

 5. Boys are left behind An economics column from Eduardo Porter in the New York Times looks at a recent report on global gender inequality in education from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — though its findings are not what you usually read about. One of the most troubling imbalances is actually happening about the “dismal performance of less educated boys, who are falling far behind girls among those with least access to quality education.”

Boys are more likely to fail the OECD’s baseline standards of proficiency in math, reading and science. In the U.S., for example, 15 percent of boys are considered “underachievers,” but only 9 percent of girls.

And “the worst-performing American girls — who did worse in reading tests than 94 out of every 100 of their peers — scored 49 points more than bottom-ranked boys, a 15 percent gap,” Porter writes. The gaps are usually smaller in more developed countries. Porter points out how the patterns are similar to other findings that “American boys from poor, single-mother families tend to do worse than girls.”

The report encourages parents to do more to force their sons to do homework, and calls for better teacher training to educate poor boys and to avoid “typecasting” them as troublesome. “It is unclear how ‘punishing’ boys with lower grades or requiring them to repeat grades for misbehavior will help them,” the O.E.C.D. noted. “In fact, these sanctions may further alienate them from school.”