The Fight to Keep Chicago Public Schools Open Continues…

Photo by the Chicago Tribune -- "Lucero Espino, age 16, a student at Thomas Kelly High School in Chicago, and hundreds of other people hold a candlelight vigil on the North Side of Chicago on Monday, February 20, 2012, to protest public school closings. "
Photo by the Chicago Tribune – “Lucero Espino, age 16, a student at Thomas Kelly High School in Chicago, and hundreds of other people hold a candlelight vigil on the North Side of Chicago on Monday, February 20, 2012, to protest public school closings. “

The Chicago Public School (CPS) district has entered crisis mode. According to Mayor Emanuel, CPS is experiencing a deficit, and in order to save money and improve school quality, his administration has decided to consolidate efforts and close schools in the Chicago area.  The Chicago Reader reports that CPS has determined 129 “underutilized” elementary schools, and within the next few weeks, the mayor will choose to close a quarter of those schools.

The problem is that administration reports and given motives conflict with other independent sources. Recently, Truthout published an article investigating the amount of money the city will save by closing these schools. Publicly the CPS projects that it will save 500,000 to $800,000 per school annually. However, the costs associated with closing a school are enormous:  $4.5M per school! The article also reports that while CPS claims to be experiencing a deficit, a recent audit of their finances shows a $344M surplus.  This begs the question of why is the mayor closing elementary schools and cutting programs with they have a cushion of funds? This needs to be investigated further.

The decision comes after a long and contentious teacher’s strike in CPS, and its hard not to feel like there is a twinge of retaliation involved. Many parents, teachers, students, and janitorial staff are infuriated by the mayor’s decision. By closing multiple public elementary schools, hundreds or even thousands school staff (public employees) will lose their jobs in the middle of an unemployment crisis. This problem is intensified by the fact that most CPS employees are black, at a time when black unemployment is several times that of white unemployment. According to the Community Media Workshop, African Americans living in Chicago are more than 2.5 times more likely to experience unemployment than white folks. Last year, the Economic Policy Institute released a survey indicating that Chicago had the third highest rate of African American unemployment in the country.

As public schools in Chicago close, charter schools are becoming more and more prevalent. Salon News asserts that teachers working for charter schools are generally non-unionized, while teachers that work for public schools are.  Many CPS teachers see the mayor’s consolidation tactic as an attempt to dismantle unions and deny teachers power. Further, the news comes at the end of a school year that begun with a long, powerful, and highly contentious teacher’s strike. Its hard to not feel like there is a twinge of retaliation involved, and that the mayor is actively working to disempower an strong union with nationwide influence.  

Similar cuts in education and school closings are happening in New York City. Currently, 26 schools may close and be replaced by charter schools. The Movement of Rank and File Educators arm of the United Federation for Teachers, the same caucus that moved for the Fall 2012 strike in the CPS, is fighting that schools remain open. On Monday Evening, teachers, students, and allies met at the Brooklyn Technical High School for a Panel for Education Policy. We hope that such events will force city from removing public schools!

The nationwide movement to close public schools and replace them with charters is part of a larger movement towards privatization of public resources, including housing, that we wrote about last week. The move to privatize — in sectors from education to housing to prisions to trash collection — is part of a larger battle to reduce the ranks of public, unionized employees. We believe that by stripping away collective bargaining rights and making profit the bottom line (over, for example, a good education) city administrations are doing children, particularly low income children and families, a huge disservice.

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