CHICAGO – The issue of how Republican Bruce Rauner's daughter was admitted into an elite Chicago public school resurfaced in the Illinois governor's race this week with a top school official and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn raising new questions.
Rauner was dogged by allegations of using his money and influence – knowing school leaders and giving the school a $250,000 donation – during the four-way Republican primary. The venture capitalist trying to unseat Quinn has portrayed himself as a political outsider fighting against such special interests in a state that's infamous for clout.
However, outgoing Chicago Public Schools Inspector James Sullivan, who investigates waste, fraud and mismanagement for the nation's third-largest school district, offered information that contradicted some of Rauner's public statements.
One of Rauner's six children was initially denied admission into Walter Payton College Prep in 2008 despite having top grades and test scores, one point Rauner and school officials agree on. But Rauner has said that his daughter's attendance record was marred by illness and hurt her overall admission score, which was the reason for the rejection. He said the family appealed through a principals' discretionary process.
However, Sullivan told The Associated Press on Thursday that Rauner didn't use the formalized principals' process. CPS policy says that principals of selective high schools can use discretion for up to 5 percent of incoming freshmen.
Sullivan said Rauner contacted then-CEO Arne Duncan's office, had at least two conversations with a chief aide, and the admission status was changed after the aide called the principal.
"She's a very bright kid. She was close and just didn't make it," Sullivan said of the initial rejection. For exclusive schools such as Walter Payton, numerous factors including race, grades, attendance and test scores are considered.
Rauner, who's worked on education issues for years, has changed his stance on if he talked to Duncan or school officials about the admission. At first he told reporters he didn't talk to Duncan or his office directly. Later he said he did but couldn't recall exact conversations, aside from asking about the admissions process.
Rauner has also said that his foundation's $250,000 donation to a Walter Payton initiative in 2009 had nothing to do with his daughter's admission the year before. Rauner says he has given money to a lot of schools over the years.
But Quinn, a Chicago Democrat seeking a second full term, called on Rauner Thursday to offer a detailed explanation. The two are locked into what's expected to be one of the most competitive and expensive governor's races nationwide.
"This is an issue that deals with clout and telling the truth," Quinn told reporters after an unrelated event. "Anybody that's running for governor better give the full story, all the facts in a truthful manner. So far we haven't received that."
Rauner campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf directed specific questions on the daughter's record and admission process to school officials. CPS spokesman Joel Hood declined to comment.
Schrimpf called Quinn's statements an attempt to "bully and tarnish" a student's stellar academic record.
Chicago's school admission process has been under heavy scrutiny for years.
In 2010, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets reported the existence of so-called clout lists for business executives, aldermen and others who pushed to get their children into exclusive schools. Rauner's name was included on a list, according to media reports at that time. Few other details were available at the time.
Since then, Rauner has repeatedly said that he never asked for special favors.
The district has reformed its admission process to reduce the risk of clout, said Sullivan. He is leaving the district after 12 years at the end of the month. He plans to do fraud investigations at a professional services firm.
He first raised the questions about Rauner's daughter's admission in a story published in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times. He reiterated the comments during a Wednesday evening broadcast on WTTW-TV.
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Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed to this report.