The axe has come down in Chicago in the largest mass school closing in US history, an act opponents have called an attempt to further privatize the school system and "neoliberal savagery masquerading as school reform."
Months of protests and public furor preceded the Chicago Board of Education vote on Wednesday to close 49 elementary schools and one high school program. In addition to the closings, five elementary schools will have a "turnaround," in which the entire staff is replaced, and 11 elementary schools will be sharing locations.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis slammed the decision, saying the education of the children of Chicago
has been hijacked by an unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board, acting at the behest of a mayor who has no vision for improving the education of our children. Closing schools is not an education plan. It is a scorched earth policy. Evidence shows that the underutilization crisis has been manufactured. Their own evidence also shows the school district will not garner any significant savings from closing these schools.
Further, say opponents, the cost-savings rationale hides what the real plan it.
As Ben Joravsky reports in The Reader, "Rahm's latest plan: Close the schools, build an arena," Mayor Emanuel can find money in the city budget, not for public schools but for a hotel and basketball arena. He writes:
Of course, as broke as we are, there's still $55 million lying around to buy up some land and hand it over to private entities that don't need it.
Because there's the kind of broke that means we don't have any money for schools, and there's the kind that means we don't have money to subsidize the rich and powerful. We haven't come close to reaching that second kind of broke—and probably never will, so long as this mayor's in charge.
Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford adds:
The mayor claims that the closings are necessary cost-cutting measures. But a report by the Chicago Tribune, which is no friend of the teachers, shows that Emanuel’s minions have fudged the numbers. For example, a school was marked for closing because it lacked adequate air conditioning, but students were then slated to be transferred to another school that also lacks sufficient air conditioning. Another school was put on the shut-down list because it would cost almost $10 million to fix. But the students’ new school requires nearly as much money for repairs. The report concludes that it would cost millions more to renovate the schools where the displaced students would be assigned, than to fix the old schools.
So, this is not about costs; that’s just a cover story. It’s about further privatizing the public schools, destroying the union, and destabilizing neighborhoods full of people that the mayor and his big business cronies would, ultimately, like to expel from the city, entirely. The teachers know it, and so does a growing portion of the community, who have joined in common cause.
There's also money to open charter schools, as WBEZ reports:
Buried in the school shake-ups voted on today were plans to open 13 new schools and a handful of alternative programs. Many of those have already been approved by the board.
Some of the aldermen whose wards are affected by the closings are on to this as well, brought their voices to the Board meeting on Wednesday, ABC7 reports, and referenced the new charter schools:
The political heat on [the mayor] from the City Council appears to be weak, confined mostly to aldermen whose wards were affected by the closings. Nine of 50 council members appeared at the Board of Education meeting to criticize some or all of the mayor's plan before the vote. Only Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) criticized Emanuel directly.
Fioretti and two of his council colleagues drew some of the day's loudest applause when they blasted the board for allowing more privately run charter schools while the Chicago Public Schools system shrinks.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said it was "somewhat disingenuous" for new charters to open near public schools that are closing because CPS says they are under-used.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), said the city is "incentivizing charter school proliferation at the expense of neighborhood schools." Charters need approval from the board and get much of their funding from CPS.
Those schools, Pawar said, are supported by "wealthy people, connected people who are telling us that government is bad... when at the end, they're going to be wholly reliant on government funding."
The closings sparked a pair of federal civil rights lawsuits filed last week charging that the closings have a discriminatory impact on African-American students and students with disabilities. A judge has set a date of July 16 to begin hearings.
But the fight isn't over, says CTU's Lewis:
Our fight for education justice has now moved to the courts, but it must eventually move to the ballot box. The parents are amazing leaders in their school communities and because of this administration’s actions we have all become closer and more united. We must resist this neoliberal savagery masquerading as school reform. We must resist racism in all of its forms as well as the escalating attacks on the working class and the poor. Our movement will continue.
Chicago's ABC-7 has video: