Just over a week ago, Chicago Public School (CPS) officials announced the closing of 54 elementary schools contained in 61 buildings, located in poor, mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The move represents the largest mass closing of schools in the nation’s history. CPS, facing a projected budget deficit of $1 billion in 2014, insists money spent keeping schools with declining enrollment open can be better used elsewhere. Approximately 30,000 students will be affected by the move. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and many parents are furious, and vow to fight.
“Like school systems in New York and Philadelphia, where enrollment has dropped, Chicago must make tough choices,” said Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a letter posted on the CPS website. “Consolidating schools is the best way to make sure all of our city’s students get the resources they need to learn and succeed.” CTU President Karen Lewis called the move “classist” and “racist” and offered a scathing assessment of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was on vacation when the announcement was made. “He is the murder mayor,” Lewis said. “Look at the murder rate in this city. He’s murdering schools, he’s murdering good jobs. He’s murdering housing. I don’t know what else to call him. He’s the murder mayor.”
Emanuel was unimpressed. “I’m interested in ideas, not insults,” he said. “Do you have an idea that would ensure that 56 percent of the African-American male adolescents don’t drop out? Ideas are what matter, not insults. Do you have an idea of how to move not only our graduation rate, but our college attendance?”
Both Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett contend the closures are necessary because there are currently only 403,000 students in enrolled in a district where there is seating for 500,000, and many of the buildings being closed are half-empty. Concerned parents counter that the closings will further undermine marginal neighborhoods, and force young children to cross gang boundaries to reach their new schools, putting their lives in potential danger.
For parents such concerns are legitimate. Chicago’s murder rate is 15.65 per 100,000, almost four times the American average, and almost 80 percent of shootings and murders in the city are gang-related, according to police. Furthermore, there may be as many as 68,000 gang members in the Windy City, quadruple the number of cops.
Activists were also infuriated, and like Karen Lewis, also willing to inject race into the issue. “I don’t see any Caucasians being moved, bussed, or murdered in the streets as they travel along gang lines, or stand on the steps of a CPS school,” said activist Wendy Matil Pearson. ”He says that he wants to turn around the city of Chicago, make a new Chicago. Does that new Chicago mean no black folks?” wondered Valerie Leonard, co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance. “Where are people going to go? They’re not going to stay around in the community if there are no schools!” Dwayne Truss, assistant director of the grassroots school advocacy group Raise Your Hand, aimed his anger at the Mayor. “We’re here to stand up to the bully, a.k.a. Rahm Emanuel, a.k.a. the one-term mayor,” he said.
Last Wednesday, a rally took place at Daley Plaza, after which protesters marched downtown past Chicago City Hall, ending at CPS Headquarters. Civil disobedience was planned, but it amounted to little more than some minor disturbances, resulting in no arrests. Adam Collins, Director of News Affairs at the Chicago Police Department, noted that the number of protesters was far less than what had been expected. ”While police were prepared for what the event organizers predicted to be a crowd of 5,000 or more, there were approximately 700-900 participants, so the event was well-managed and without incident,” he said.
Lewis spoke at the rally, and yet again played the race card. ”Let’s not pretend that when you close schools on the South and West sides that the children who will be affected are black. Let’s not pretend that’s not racist,” Lewis contended. “They are closing down schools that have names of African-American icons. But he’ll open up schools to put the name of a living billionaire on front.”
Both the activists and Lewis are being disingenuous. The schools being closed are in black and Hispanic communities, and according to the CPS’s own website, black and Hispanic students comprise 85.7 percent of the student body. White student comprise only 8 percent, due in large part to the reality that white Chicagoans, who make up one-third of the city’s population, put their children in private schools. Thus, the overwhelming majority of children in most schools in the city are minority students, and Lewis’s clear attempt to stoke the flames of racial hatred in the black community with charges of racism rings hollow.
Furthermore, if Lewis and her fellow teachers are so concerned, they have a funny way of showing it: even as they knew full well the district was facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, they staged a strike last September. The key issues in that strike were teacher salaries, benefits, job security and a demand to change a teacher evaluation system that relied “too much” on test scores. As a result of prevailing in that strike, CTU teachers are now the highest paid in the nation, earning an average annual salary of $74,839–not counting benefits.
By comparison, the average Chicagoan, living in a city where the unemployment rate is just under 11 percent, makes just $30,203.
To be clear, the abysmal situation in Chicago schools and the related measure of school closings is, without a shadow of a doubt, a problem created by the Democrats, exacerbated by Democrats, with a “solution” that pits relatively well-off Democrats against poor Democrats. While Rahm Emanuel struggles to cope with budget shortfalls, violence and underutilized campuses, he sends his own children to private schools. When Karen Lewis rails about closings that “unnecessarily expose our students to gang violence, turf wars and peer-to-peer conflict” and “putting thousands of small children in harm’s way,” she neglects to mention that nearly 40 percent of her fellow unionists send their children to private schools as well — or that Chicago teachers provide less instruction than any other “large metro area” in the country, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.
As for the parents, in 12 of 13 city wards where black Americans comprise an overwhelming majority of the population, voting for the same Democrat is more than a reflex: in the 2012 presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney did not receive a single vote.
The CPS promises it will invest money to improve schools where the students affected by the closings will be relocated. The funds freed up will ostensibly be used to add more technology, air conditioning, better security, more tutoring and additional services. CPS promises that every school will have a library and that students will no longer be subjected to substandard buildings. “We know this is going to be difficult, but we believe it’s the right thing to do,” said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. “I’m sure any parent would stand up and say they want a better education for their child. And in order for that to happen, we have to do this and move on.”
As this previous Front Page report on the horrendous state of the Chicago public schools reveals, moving on–not up–is all that is likely to occur. The move to improved facilities is reminiscent of another progressive pipe dream, namely public housing. At one time in cities across America, buildings that are now urban epicenters of crime and social dysfunction were also new and improved. If the underlying problems facing blighted school communities remain unaddressed, what expectation can there be that promises of “investments” will offer any hopes for transformative change?
As long as public school education in Chicago remains under the status quo control of the unholy Democrat-teachers union alliance, moving children to newer buildings will amount to nothing other than one more broken promise of “reform” — similar to every other broken promise of reform that has been made over the course of several decades.
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