Chicago's proposed school closings called unfair to city's poorest students
Citing a budget deficit and declining enrollment, Chicago proposed Thursday that 61 public schools be closed. Teachers and parents warn that the poorest students will be affected the most.
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“In certain communities, even though enrollment was declining, the district was still opening up charter schools, diluting the student population” from traditional schools, Ms. Olson says.Skip to next paragraph
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Another misleading statistic, she says, involves schools that specialize in special education programs. Because teaching autistic children requires having fewer students in a classroom, the schools are targeted for closure because they are deemed not utilized to capacity. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that several of the schools slated for closure serve special education students.
“The formula [CPS has] to calculate which schools are at capacity or underutilized has a few flaws,” she says.
A representative with CPS declined to comment for this article.
Closing such a high proportion of public schools is not necessarily following a nationwide trend, but some districts across the US have chosen to deal with recessionary pressures by cutting programs, personnel and operating costs, says Professor Tozer.
Chicago is choosing to take the most drastic measure to cut down its deficit because the dynamics of state funding for public education gives them no choice, he says. According to CPS, Chicago receives only 18.6 percent of total state aid despite serving 19.5 percent of its students. The district also serves 90 percent of the state’s low-income students, but receives a disproportionately low amount of aid designated for that population.
“It cannot be overlooked that the city of Chicago is being forced by the inequality of funding in the state of Illinois. If CPS had a per-pupil funding that matched those in the upper quintile of the state, we wouldn’t have the budget deficit that would be forcing these closings in the first place,” Tozer says.
A factor deeply embedded in the debate over the closings is race: The majority of students in CPS are either black or Hispanic, and the Sun-Times reports that most of the schools targeted for closure are located on the far South and West sides of the city, which have been plagued by street violence. City homicides surpassed 500 last year, a four-year high; most were shooting deaths located in areas known for marginalized schools.
In a statement released late Thursday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called Emanuel “the murder mayor” and “cowardly” for scheduling the closures on the week of his vacation.
“He is murdering public services. Murdering our ability to maintain public sector jobs and now he has set his sights on our public schools,” she said, adding: “School closings will not save money and taxpayers will not see costs benefits in two years. Why? Because vibrant school communities will be quickly transformed into abandon buildings, neighborhood eyesores and public safety hazards.”
A rally and march organized by the union is scheduled in downtown Chicago next Wednesday.
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