The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Chicago School Children on the Chopping Block

Apr 1, 2013

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school board released its Hit List of 61 schools on Thursday: Sixty-one schools that will close, be forced to share a building, or have their entire staff fired. This is more than double the number of schools Emanuel closed last year, and is reported to be the largest single school closing event in the U.S.

CPS (Chicago Public Schools) continues to peddle nonsense as its justification: The school board is broke, and by closing schools, it will save money. The Board is lying on both counts.

Almost every year for the past decade, the Board has announced a deficit as high as one billion dollars. When the year is over, more often than not, the Board announces a surplus. This past year was no different. By the Board’s own count, the closings will save only around 50 million dollars a year – a very small portion of their supposed billion dollar “deficit.”

These savings don’t take into account the new safety measures they’ll need to add. One of the main issues parents and students raise is sending students across gang boundaries when schools close – and the conflict and violence that inevitably follows.

Ninety per cent of the students in the schools to close are black; in the 100 schools closed since 2001, 88 percent of the students affected were black. Black students make up only 42 percent of the school enrollment in the city overall.

And, most of the schools are in hard-hit areas of the city’s South and West sides – neighborhoods where jobs are scarce, and where boarded-up homes have appeared in greater and greater number since the financial crisis.

Emanuel and the Board say these schools are “under-enrolled,” and that the population in these neighborhoods has decreased. This is another lie. A first-grade teacher in one school slated to close says she has 22 students in her classroom, and said, “I even think there should be a better ratio just because of the needs of 5- and 6- and 7-year-olds. We’re fortunate to have 22 in the sense that other schools have over 30, but I still think it’s really criminal.” A parent at another school said, “This is the first time in a long time this school has actually got a reasonable amount of kids in the classrooms.”

A reasonable amount – that is what the CPS considers “under-utilized!”

Certainly, many black people have moved out of the city – because they’ve been pushed out. Pushed out by closing public housing, and pushed out by the very policy of school closings, which has been going on for more than a decade.

During that same decade, the Board has added more than 100 charter schools, and is adding six more charters this year. Many charter schools move into the buildings vacated by closed public schools. Since 2006, public school enrollment is down by 55,000 students – and 53,000 have gone into charter schools.

So we see what this is: a way to privatize public education, to drive down costs, and to attack teachers – teachers whose strike last fall pushed the city to spend more on public education.

The Board proposes to add boarded-up schools in neighborhoods already littered with boarded-up homes and boarded-up storefronts. All to free up more public funds for the bankers and other private interests. It is a racist assault on public services that working people in Chicago are right to condemn.