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Grading Daley on community issues

How will Mayor Daley’s record be judged on the issues that impact Chicago’s communities?  One primary source is a report card issued earlier this year by a coalition of community and civil rights groups, and it’s not particularly favorable.

The Developing Government Accountability for the People project rated the city’s record on a range of issues in March, giving an overall grade of D and finding that the city’s performance in several areas had declined since a previous assessment three years earlier.

On criminal justice, DGAP gave the city a D, citing the failure to institute an effective early warning system for abusive cops or to fund alternative crime models like CeaseFire.

On economic development, the city got a D, with the O’Hare expansion serving as “a prime example of the inequity and corruption that plagues economic development in Chicago: money is ill-spent and goes to the people who need it least.”  DGAP called for living wage protections for big box and TIF-backed development, and for stepped up funding for jobs, including TIF funding for summer youth jobs.

On education, DGAP gave the city a D+ and called for a moratorium on school closings and for support for LSCs.  On the environment the city got a B+, with DGAP calling for action on recycling and coal power plant pollution.

On ethics and corruption, the city got a D+, with DGAP calling for enacting Shakman Decree protections, making budget information transparent, limiting campaign contributions, and requiring public hearings and independent evaluations of privatization deals.

The city got an F on housing, with DGAP reporting that the CHA Plan for Transformation has been a disaster for many residents, and the city’s ten-year plan to end homeless has only two years left and “there is still no city investment in creating permanent housing for homeless people.”

On transportation, with CTA service cuts “exacerbating inequities in service provision across the city,” DGAP gave the city a D and called for a congestion tax, full accessibility on public transit, a new formula for RTA funds, and a commitment to the Gold Line and the Red Line extension “to rectify the huge transportation inequity on the southeast side.”

The report showed that “despite all of its efforts to beautify and modernize the city, local government does not adequately and equitably serve all of its communities,” said DGAP coordinator Michaela Purdue in a statement with the report’s release.

“Where residents have expected to be actively engaged in the implementation of equitable policies that benefit all residents in every neighborhood across the entire city, they have instead found themselves in a constant struggle against forces that ultimately exclude their voices from the democratic process,” according to the report.

The Mayor still has several months to get his grades up.

New leadership for Chicago teachers

As new and old reports at Catalyst and Gapers Block indicate, CORE’s victory in Friday’s teachers union election reflected the group’s activist orientation and commitment to grassroots organizing, in schools and with communities.

“We energized the grassroots,” said one CORE member.

CORE came on the scene two years ago and immediately provided a citywide organizational structure for a movement against Renaissance 2010 that had yet to gain much traction.

Before CORE, small community and education groups committed to the  original school reform agenda of parent empowerment and improving neighborhood schools – along with parents at separate schools scrambling desperately to oppose closings in a very short window of time – had been limited to school-by-school struggles.

CORE was crucial in forming the Grassroots Education Movement, which gave the movement against Renaissance 2010 a citywide scope and strategic vision.

Arne Duncan left for Washington and Ron Huberman took over at CPS last year as CORE and GEM’s first drive against closings crested, and in response to protests and the exposure of faulty CPS data, Huberman decided to take six schools off the closing list.  It was the first time anything like that had ever happened.

This year, another anti-closings campaign — which won the support of several aldermen — forced Huberman to admit “the process is flawed” and to take six of fourteen school closings and turnarounds off the table.

On its website CORE attributes these victories to an approach which “built partnerships with our natural allies and empowered members to stand up for their profession, their jobs and their schools.”  Activism, organizing, coalition-building.

In remarks Saturday morning at King College Prep, CTU president-elect Karen Lewis made it clear that defending against the attacks on teachers and on public education which underlie much of the current “reform” agenda is high on her agenda.

“Today marks the beginning of the end of scapegoating educators,” she said.

She railed against “corporate heads and politicians” who “have never sat one minute on this side of the teacher’s desk” and “do not have a clue about teaching and learning.”  But “they’re the ones calling the shots, and we’re supposed to accept it as ‘reform.'”

Asked if she had a message for Mayor Daley and schools chief Ron Huberman, she said, “I want them to appreciate what educators do.”

(CORE has posted Lewis’s remarks, and WBEZ has audio.)

First, though, comes discussions over Huberman’s proposals to lay off teachers and raise class size, and Lewis called on CPS to disclose “all the financial details” of how it spends its money — including vendor and consulting contracts– including how charter schools spend the taxpayer money they get, “because to date, we have not seen charter schools’ financials” – and including an estimated $250 million a year in TIF money that would otherwise be going to schools.

She called on Daley to put his political weight behind an effort to end the state’s overreliance on property tax funding for schools and the drastic inequities that result from it.  And she rejected the notion “that access to high quality education for all children is a luxury that we simply can’t afford.”

Head Start ambassadors

POWER-PAC, an organization of low-income black and Latino mothers and grandmothers, has been using grassroots organizing methods to increase participation in early education since 2006; Catalyst reports that the city is expanding its support for the group’s Head Start Ambassadors program.    For background, see Newstips reports from 2007 on door-to-door efforts, and from 2009 on the group’s policy recommendations.

Latinos lag in tech careers

Latinos are “vastly under-engaged in technology careers,” especially in Illinois — and that could hurt the state’s potential for economic recovery and growth.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Latino Technology Alliance, a new organization formed to bridge the gap in technology employment and entrepreneurship.

While accounting for 15 percent of Illinois’ population, Latinos comprise less than 5 percent of its technology workforce, according to the report, which notes that earnings in science and technology are generally far higher than in other fields.

LTA was founded in 2002 as the Latino Technology Association, a membership association, but found the number of Latino business professionals seeking high-tech careers was declining, said Queta Rodriguez Bauer. Last year the group reorganized as a social service agency to promote education, job-creation and entrepreneurship.

A big part of the problem is education. Lower educational attainment by Latino students limits their access to technology careers, according to the study, and schools in low-income areas have less access to computers and technology and are less likely to use computers for instructional purposes. In addition, Latino parents often have language barriers and less experience with higher education.

The report proposes a variety of programs for students, as well as career fairs, networking gatherings, and a data base of high-tech product and service providers in the Latino community, to promote business opportunities.

Latinos could give the Illinois economy a competitive edge in global and domestic technology and service markets where bilingual skills and cultural competencies are advantages, Bauer said — but as a growing portion of the state’s population, they could also hold the economy back if their potential isn’t fully developed, she added.

Science Chicago in Millennium Park

A remarkable year-long science celebration — which has reached 300,000 Chicago-area residents — goes out with a bang Friday, as Science Chicago holds its final Labfest in Millennium Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Kids and families will participate in hands-on activities, craft projects and games exploring sciences “from astronomy to zoology.” Among the wide range of activities, participants will design, build and race solar-powered model cars, build robots and windmills, and work with an architect to construct a 15-foot replica of the Willis Tower out of Legos.

Science Chicago’s Labfest has travelled to schools, parks and libraries throughout the area over the past year, part of a year-long initiative which started last September and is thought to be the world’s largest science celebration. Science Chicago has included Science Saturdays, with behind-the-scenes tours of research labs, engineering and technology companies and nature preserves, as well as science forums including Junior Science Cafes (upcoming: “Imagining Cures for the World’s Diseases” on August 24 at the Lake Zurich library, and “A Century of Change on the Chicago River” at the Chicago River Museum on August 27).

Funding for the coming year will support Science Chicago’s online efforts, which include a directory of local science and engineering professionals who are available to lead demonstrations and experiments, and a toolkit for teachers.

“Science Chicago has inspired hundreds of thousands of Chicago residents of all ages to awaken their inner scientist and explore the many scientific resources of the region,” David Mosena, president of the Museum of Science and Industry and vice chair of Science Chicago’s advisory board, said in a statement. “It is our hope that cities and organizations across the nation will look to Science Chicago as a model for the development of similar initiatives aimed at inspiring the next generation of American scientists.”

Parents push early learning

Rosazlia Grillier knows the value of early learning; the Englewood mother attended Head Start when she was a child, and so have her two daughters.

“There are so many obstacles for children in our communities, and early learning gives them a jump start on life,” she said. “High quality early learning programs are part of a pathway out of poverty.”

As an activist with the citywide parents organization POWER-PAC (and a trainer with the group’s sponsor, Community Organizing and Family Issues), Grillier has been part of a grassroots mobilization over the past year which increased participation in preschool by 25 percent in Englewood.

Even though Illinois has taken the lead among states in creating and providing acccess to early learning programs, POWER-PAC members in low-income communities could see that many children weren’t participating, Grillier said. The group’s efforts over the past few years have helped inspire a broader effort to connect “hard-to-reach” families with early learning opportunities.

POWER-PAC’s approach has been two-fold — surveying parents to learn more about obstacles to participation, and experimenting with solutions to address those obstacles.

Last week the group released a report on a series of surveys in which members interviewed over 5,000 families with young children in 19 low-income communities in Chicago. They found that nearly half of eligible children are not in preschool.

The survey explores a range of obstacles to enrollment. First is a system that is “a confusing and frustrating maze,” with a variety of programs with widely varying eligibility standards, often involving complex enrollment procedures requiring extensive documentation.

A family that is turned away from one program is often not informed that they might qualify at another program a few blocks away, said POWER-PAC organizer Kelly Magnuson.

The report advocates “a dramatic overhal of our nation’s early education programs to create one seamless system supporting quality, full-day, year-round universal preschool.”

In the meantime, it calls for a simplifying the registration process, reducing co-payments to make programs affordable, and building new facilities in communities where preschool options are currently insufficient.

The report calls for funding for van service for preschool and stipends for volunteer conductors of “walking schoolbuses” to address transportation barriers; expanded preschool schedules to accommodate family and work schedules; and an aggressive media campaign on the importance of early learning — backed by home-visiting programs to support young parents and caretaking grandparents, as well as funding for community-based outreach.

Parent-to-parent contact is crucial in low-income and especially immigrant communities where public officials do not always inspire trust, said Magnuson.

The summer POWER-PAC members are working with the city’s Department of Family and Support Services as Head Start Ambassadors, promoting the program door-to-door, at block parties and summer festivals, and at WIC offices and social service agencies. The group is also in discussion with CPS on piloting a “walking schoolbus” program.

Parents work on early education

The issue of access to early education in low-income communities is gaining attention, as last month’s Catalyst cover stories indicate.  But largely untold is the role of activist mothers and grandmothers in Chicago neighborhoods in first identifying the problem and initiating action on it.

Black and Latina members of POWER-PAC will present findings and tell stories from a two-year research and outreach program in which they knocked on 5,000 doors in 19 low and moderate income communities — and found 40 to 65 percent of preschool-age children were not enrolled in preschool or head start.  They’ll release a report at a press conference tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the office of Community Organizing and Family Issues, 954 W. Washington.

One finding is that the confusing and frustrating maze of federal and state programs, with complex eligibility requirements and little networking, is itself a major obstacle for parents in low-income communities.  And one lesson is the importance of involving the people who are most affected by policies in their formation and implementation.

Here’s our Newstip from December 2007.

Community change: a long view

Founded by leaders of Chicago’s settlement house movement 100 years ago, the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago has focused on urban poverty and community action from its very beginning.

“It’s in the DNA of the school,” said SSA professor Robert Chaskin.

A symposium he has organized for Friday as part of the school’s centennial celebration will bring together leaders of community organizations and researchers to assess that record and look at current challenges.

Community leaders — including Ric Estrada from Erie Neighborhood House and Clarence Wood of Hull House Association, both organizations born from settlement houses — will respond to presentations by academic researchers on immigration and immigrant hometown associations, public housing reform, the nonprofit-led New Communities Program, big-box commercial development, and gentrification and responses to community change.

The City Revisited: Community and Community Action in the 21st Century takes place Friday, May 8, from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington.

SSA has always combined rigorous academic analysis with direct engagement in communities, said associate dean Steve Gilmore. SSA students doing field work contribute some 250,000 hours a year working with over 400 agencies in Chicago, and since 2002 the school’s Program for Urban and Community Leadership has heightened the focus on Chicago communities, he said.

The symposium is one of a number of events, running through June, to mark the school’s centennial.

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