In March, Chicago revealed a plan to close 54 elementary schools, mainly in low-income and African American communities. The city, under leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, claims that the closings are needed to close a $1 billion city deficit, according to The Contributor. This month, the city announced that it will dedicate as much as $100 million in public funds to facilitate the construction of a new basketball arena for DePaul University.
Two weeks ago, Mayor Emanuel stated that the city would not be using public money to fund a new basketball arena for DePaul, but rather is “subsidizing” an “event center,” the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The arena would, in fact, be part of redevelopment project “consisting of a convention center anchored by an arena for a non-descript basketball team [the DePaul Blue Demons] that has gone 47-111 over the last five years.”
The Chicago Board of Education, appointed by Emanuel, voted in favor of the plan to close 50+ “underutilized” schools amidst protests by Chicago teachers, parents, and community members. The decision would mean “the biggest round of closings ever for a single American school district,” said MSNBC. The protesters argued the decision would endanger the schools’ predominantly poor and African American students, and put children at risk by having to travel farther to attend overcrowded schools.
It is estimated that as many as 7,000 citizens participated in the protest marches, which were organized by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). “These people are on a mission to pretty much destroy public education as we know it in Chicago,” CTU president Karen Lewis told MSNBC.
“A look at the city’s finances show that it is wasting potentially hundreds of millions of dollars on financing private development projects – all culled from property taxes that traditionally were used to finance the school system,” Bold Progressives said. The program, known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) diverts a portion of property taxes to fund development projects that siphon money to private developers and contractors. It is estimated that $500 million to $800 million have been diverted to TIF projects.
In his year and a half as mayor, Emanuel has alienated many Chicagoans, and the CTU in particular, by, what some (who endorsed him for mayor) consider, “essentially doing what he said he would do – by pushing for better schools and imposing tough economies.”
In September, CTU went on a week-long strike to protest Chicago Public Schools’s (CPS) and the mayor’s education policy on such issues as “threats to teacher job security, the spread of charter schools,” and alleged “insufficient resources for economically disadvantaged students.” Last week, a group of Chicago parents filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago in attempt to put a stop to the school closures.
Their case may be bolstered by a report released on Friday by the Chicago Tribune, which finds that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) “appears to have selectively highlighted data to stress shortcomings at schools to be closed, while not pointing out what was lacking at the receiving schools.” The report also noted that renovations to several of the schools receiving displaced students “would cost millions of dollars more than the estimated cost of fixing up the buildings where those children are currently enrolled.”
The decisions made by Emanuel and the city of Chicago are clearly misguided. The claim that the school closures are a fiscal necessity seems to be a deplorable attempt to cover the collaborative effort by the mayor and city to transfer funding to private developers and projects.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.