Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the Chicago Public School (CPS) System have reached an agreement that the way to cover the school system’s $1 billion deficit is to restructure the system by closing 54 under-utilized schools. This type of fiscal responsibility may be prudent in the private sector but it is being protested in Chicago as USA Today reports:
Jesse Ruiz, vice president of the Chicago Board of Education, says the number of schools must be pared because many are under-utilized due to a shrinking student population — the number of Chicago residents fell by 200,418 from 2000 to 2010 — and because the district faces a $1 billion budget shortfall. About 30,000 children will be moved. Schools are currently equipped to accommodate 511,000 students; enrollment now is 403,000.
The school closing disproportionately affects African-American neighborhoods because Chicago’s population loss has been primarily in the African-American community like we are seeing in cities like New York, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. According to recent reporting,
The 2010 Census showed the city of Chicago lost 200,000 people over the last decade. The city now has about as many people as it did in 1910. There are 181,000 fewer African Americans in the city, a whopping drop of 17 percent, and 72,000 fewer in the region as a whole.
The fact remains that Chicago is simply shrinking day by day. Population decline means that tomorrow’s population and tax base cannot financially support Chicago’s big government bureaucratic education infrastructure. Even with these facts, many Chicagoans are calling the plan “racist.” The racism charge will sound odd to some when it is remembered that many of the schools built in the South side and West side of Chicago were originally intended to keep African-Americans from attending schools in predominantly white neighborhoods. What is happening in Chicago is paradigmatic of what will happen in cities all over America where African-Americans are trapped in declining neighborhoods and are too heavily dependent on public assistance.
Finances aside, one wonders why there is so much resistance to closing the very same schools that are actually failing kids. For example, at the Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, which is on the school closure list, 50% of the 8th-graders are below grade level in math and nearly 55% of 4th-graders are below grade level in science. It seems that parents should have been asking why this school continued to remain open all these years.
These protests might have something to do with the fact that the Chicago Public Schools serve tax-payer funded breakfast everyday for 410,000 students. Or that 76 percent of public school students in the city receive free lunches and another 6 percent do not pay full price for their meals, according to CPS records. Or, perhaps, the recent push to lengthen the school day in Chicago to 7.5 hours, beyond the current 5 hours and 45 minutes, is making some parents wonder about losing out on the longer days. The motives at play are unclear, but if most Chicago Public school children are receiving two meals a day at school for “free,” and if students are at school all day, why would we be surprised that parents are protesting?
While sympathetic to the worries of parents whose children are being displaced, the silver lining in the story could be that this has galvanized parental involvement in their children’s education. We can only hope that the city of Chicago will do whatever is necessary to give the city’s parents the financial freedom to choose whatever school is best for their children, even if that means leaving the public system altogether, and hopefully parents will be empowered to not allow the city government to undermine their role as caretakers. In this sense, some would argue that the schools should be closed since protesting against the closure of failing public schools that undermine the family is like encouraging a diabetic to watch her sugar intake while feeding her sugar cookies.