Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
[Editor: This is the third article on Black displacement from concentrated Black neighborhoods, and correlated school closures. The article suggests that targeted school closures in Black neighborhoods intensified and accelerated the displacement of Black families from the City. Both appear to be a coordinated policy of closing schools and displacing Black families, implemented by Chicago City government and it’s mayor-appointed school board.]
School closures are part of CPS cycle of disinvestment
“School closures also have undermined and intensified flight from affected neighborhoods.”
The plan to phase out Chicago’s Hope College Prep, Harper and TEAM Englewood public high schools and close Robeson High School this year leaves incoming students with no neighborhood high school at all in the Englewood neighborhood.
Members of Chicago Public Schools’ Englewood Community Action Council have exposed the district’s betrayal of its “engagement” process around the fate of these schools. CAC members note that few parents had a seat at the table, with CPS instead treating the issue of closures as a done deal and refusing to support a community-led strategic plan to reverse enrollment decline by investing in Englewood’s schools.
To add insult to injury, CPS has promised more support to current students only as it phases out their schools. Put bluntly, CPS has offered to pay the education debt it owes these students only as their schools are being shuttered.
For years, CPS has used a funding formula that has starved neighborhood high schools of resources, and then shunted the inevitable consequences onto those very schools. Schools in black and Latino neighborhoods bear the greatest burden.
CPS’ initial proposal to shutter Englewood’s high schools simultaneously would have scattered hundreds of students to other under-resourced schools — and denied them access to the proposed new $85 million school. These kinds of barriers for students are common. Since 1995, according to Generation All, 88 percent of new Chicago high schools have imposed barriers to enrollment.
CPS has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build modern “schools of choice.” But rapid charter expansion and destabilizing school closures, consolidations and other changes have driven under-enrollment and underutilization — and have dovetailed with the chaos caused by test-based school accountability policies. According to WBEZ, CPS has disproportionately pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into schools in white middle-class communities to increase school capacity, even when underenrolled schools are nearby in nonwhite neighborhoods.
Illinois has implemented a more equitable funding model based on student needs — a model that provides the kinds of resources and supports that the Chicago Teachers Union outlined in our education platform, “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.” CPS, however, has rejected this new funding formula, instead continuing to exacerbate underenrollment at low-income schools through student-based budgeting, which allots school dollars based on head counts that treat students like dollar signs instead of young people with real needs.
CPS has promised additional support to the schools that will take in Englewood’s displaced students, but these receiving schools struggle from the same funding shortfalls that have systematically starved Englewood’s high schools of teachers, support staff and diverse programming. Over three years, CPS cut $8.3 million — or 44 percent — from the budgets of the Englewood schools targeted for closure. Over the same period, CPS cut more than $10 million — 27 percent — from the budgets of receiving schools, Bogan, Phillips Academy, Chicago Vocational Career Academy and Gage Park, which is more than twice the percentage loss across all district high schools.
CPS made promises during its 2013 closures as well, saying shutdowns would remedy large class sizes at “underutilized” elementary schools, but Illinois Report Card data from the State Board of Education show that class sizes across CPS have actually climbed to among the highest in Illinois, especially in the early grades. In 2013, CPS also promised more funding for students impacted by closures — funding that paled in comparison to the amounts allocated to selective-enrollment schools and charters. Schools designated as receiving schools after the 2013 closures continue to confront enrollment drops, and CPS continues to slash their funding, fomenting an inevitable downward spiral in resources and enrollment.
School closures also have undermined and intensified flight from affected neighborhoods. According to the Chicago Reporter, many families affected by the 2013 closures have ended up in “cash-strapped, segregated” suburban schools. Since 2011, more than 1,600 Englewood students — most of them black and poor — have left CPS schools for other school districts. These families are being pushed out of the city, yet CPS and the mayor continue to label the disruption and destabilization caused by school closures as a function of school “choice.”
Englewood’s schools — like schools in other neighborhoods where the city has disinvested — foster vibrant relationships and enormously positive school communities for students. It’s no wonder that students, parents and community residents who attended public hearings overwhelmingly opposed the closure plans. Instead of starving them out, it’s time for CPS to listen to the community and commit to supporting these schools and neighborhood schools in all of Chicago’s low-income black and brown neighborhoods.
Pavlyn Jankov is an education policy analyst for the Chicago Teachers Union.