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No celebration: Chicagoans protest police, schools

Two dovetailing protests will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in Chicago on Wednesday — a march on the Board of Education by a citywide coalition of community groups at 10 a.m., and a march on City Hall demanding accountability for police killings directly afterward.

Both protests emphasize how far we still have to go to address racial inequality, and both call for the creation of elected bodies to oversee local agencies — an elected school board and an elected civilian police accountability council.

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A dozen community organizations have called for a one-day school boycott and will march on the Board of Education at 10 a.m. demanding an end to the destabilization of neighborhood schools and recognition of the human right to a safe, quality education for every child.

They are calling for an elected school board and reallocation of TIF funds to stop budget cuts.

“Our schools are still very segregated and very unequal,” said Sarah Simmons of Parents For Teachers.  Suburban and selective enrollment schools have a full range of programs while students at Dyett High School in Washington Park are forced to take art and phys ed classes online, she said.

After heavy budget cuts, Kelly High School has two art teachers for 2,700 students and no library, said Israel Munoz, a recent Kelly grad who helped organize the new Chicago Students Union and is now headed to college.

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Alternatives to school cuts

Just a month ago — when they were intent on closing 50 schools — the watchword at CPS was “quality education.”

“What we must do is ensure that the resources that some kids get, all kids get,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett in an internet ad funded by the right-wing Walton Family Foundation.  “And these resources include libraries and access to technology and science labs and art classrooms….

“And with our consolidations we’re able to guarantee that our children will get what they need and what they deserve.”

That was then.

Raise Your Hand has released a very partial list of budget cuts faced by schools under the district’s new per-pupil funding system, and it’s impressive:

Goethe, Jamieson, Kozmisky, Sutherland, each will lose between $250,000 and $300,000.  Audobon, Belden, Gale, Grimes Fleming, and Ray, between $400,000 and $500,000.  Bell, Darwin Mitchell, Murphy, Suder, Sullivan High, betweeen $700,000 and $800,000.  Gage Park High, Lincoln Park High, Mather Elementary, Roosevelt High, $1 million or thereabouts.  Foreman High, $1.7 million.

CTU reports that Taft High School faces a $3 million cut.

According to Wendy Katten of RYH, every school they’ve contacted faces budget cuts.  So far they have figures from about 10 percent of CPS schools, and the cuts total about $45 million, she said.  (CTU budget analyst Kurt Hilgendorf said the union has requested district-wide figures on cuts but CPS has declined to supply them.)

“It’s horrific,” she said.  “There are terrible losses.”

It also clearly contravene’s Byrd-Bennett’s promise about what school consolidations would accomplish.

Losing library access

Two high schools,Von Steuben and Lincoln Park,  are reported to be considering laying off librarians — at Von Steuben it would mean no open-access library; at Lincoln Park, the library would remain open part of the school day but not after school — but many more principals are being forced to choose between staffing their libraries and having enough teachers.

At many schools it will mean  eliminating art or music.  At Katten’s son’s school, it looks like art will be eliminated and physical education will be staffed by a part-time teacher — which means gym just twice a week, far below the state requirement.

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Reality check: closing schools, saving money?

For month after month, Chicagoans have been told that CPS has to close schools because it has a $1 billion deficit.

How will people react after the massive disruption of wholesale school closings, when the district’s financial problems remain unchanged?

And that’s before Mayor Emanuel starts handing out new contracts to charter schools.

CPS says they’ll save something like a billion dollars over the next decade by closing 54 schools.  There’s reason to be skeptical.

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On TIF reform, Bronzeville has ideas

Bronzeville residents turned out in impressive numbers for last Thursday’s public forum of the Mayor’s Task Force on TIF Reform, which was held at the Bronzeville Chicago Military Academy.

Other communities were represented, but more forums in additional communities would certainly offer the task force greater breadth of public input.  But last week’s was the only hearing that is planned.

Bronzeville is one of the city’s most heavily TIFed communities, with thirteen TIF districts covering 80 percent of the area, many created to finance CHA redevelopments – with more in the works had Mayor Daley won the 2016 Olympic games, according to Housing Bronzeville.

Sheila Carter testified on behalf of the group that TIFs have “failed local taxpayers” in their lack of transparency and accountability.  It’s been “virtuallly impossible for local residents to understand how TIF monies were being raised and spent in our area,” she said, suggesting “this confusion and lack of documentation was intentional.”

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Time for TIF reform?

Chicago teachers and community groups will call for an end to big business TIF giveaways which are draining the CPS budget at a rally tomorrow (Saturday, March 19, noon) at Jenner Elementary, 1119 N. Cleveland.

After the rally they’ll march to a number of businesses around the Gold Coast that have received TIF funding, said Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union.  TIF funds (including subsidies to developers) have benefited such corporations as Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, he said.

The TIF program diverts about $250 million a year from the CPS budget to “wealthy developers, well-connected businesses, and Wall Street bankers,” while 160 CPS schools have no library, teachers are being laid off, education programs are cut and class sizes are growing, he said. CPS is projecting a $700 million deficit for the coming year.

The protest’s slogan is “TIFs Are For Kids.”  It comes at a time when TIF reform seems to be under serious consideration in Springfield, and a new mayor-elect is saying he wants reform too.

It’s not yet clear what Rahm Emanuel means by “reform.”  He began his campaign calling for greater transparency on TIFs – for one thing, including them in the city budget – and also for skimming TIF funds to hire more police, a move many think is probably not legally feasible.

Since winning election Emanuel has said “we need to return [the TIF program] to its original purpose,” as “a tool for blighted communities” rather than “for high-rent areas.”

Corporate welfare

That echoes the long-standing criticism of community groups, who say TIF has diverted property tax revenues to politically-favored areas and businesses that don’t need it, and that open-ended rather than project-specific TIF plans have accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars for Mayor Daley to use for his friends, at his whim.

Building on years of coverage at the Chicago Reader, recent reports have confirmed this view.  According to reporters from Chicago Talks, nearly half of the $1.2 billion in TIF money designated for private sector projects since 2000 went to some of the area’s most profitable corporations.

According to the Chicago Reporter, $1.2 billion in property tax dollars were siphoned from the city, county, schools, and parks to the development projects in the Loop and Near South Side – just two of Chicago’s 77 community areas getting 55 percent of all TIF money spent between 2004 and 2008.

“We’ve been saying for a long time that they have been abusing it,” said Carolina Gaete of Blocks Together.  “They’re starving the taxing bodies.  TIF has really been used as corporate welfare — and a tool for gentrification.”

If Emanuel is serious about returning TIF to its original purpose, the first thing he should do is sunset the LaSalle Central TIF, said one long-time observer.

Created in 2006, the LaSalle Central TIF has funneled millions of dollars to major corporations – United Airlines, Miller Coors, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group among others – in many cases to renovate corporate offices.

The LaSalle Central TIF has over $36 million in available funds this year.  It’s expected to collect $1.5 billion over its 23-year life – about half of which will come from property tax that would otherwise go to CPS – for use in an area that comprises some of the city’s most prime real estate.

“There should never have been a TIF in that area,” said David Merriman of UIC.

Movement in Springfield

Meanwhile, a number of measures reforming TIF have been introduced in Springfield, including proposals to return uncommitted TIF funds to taxing bodies annually, exempt CPS revenues from TIF diversions, and require audits of Chicago TIFs and stepped-up disclosure (Progress Illinois has a list).

These are likely to be combined with other proposals into a single consensus bill by a group of legislators and advocates convened by Rep. John Taylor (D – Marion).  And prospects for passage this session look good, said Jonathan Goldman of Parent PAC, a new group that advocates for public school parents, which includes veterans of campaigns against the diversion of school funds to TIFs.

Growing momentum for reform reflects growing popular awareness about TIFs — as well as the mounting financial challenges faced by CPS and Chicago, Goldman said.  “And part of it is that Daley is leaving; he won’t be there to defend it,” he said.  Previously “people were afraid to go there.”

Housing Action Illinois, which helped push through earlier TIF reforms a decade ago, has compiled a list of TIF reform principles and submitted it to Bradley’s working group, Bob Palmer said.

These include: tightening up the definition of “blight” used to qualify TIF plans; limiting the land area in a municipality that can be TIFed; requiring explicit goals and purposes, with a process for returning revenues to taxing bodies when goals are met; requiring governing boards of taxing bodies to approve participation in a TIF, allowing them to limit their participation, and limiting TIF diversions to property value increases above the rate of inflation; and setting a process for declaring a surplus and returning unused revenues to schools districts and other taxing bodies.

Similar points are made in a memo to the working group from the Better Government Association.

Another proposal backed by Housing Action, designed to facilitate the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, would allow TIF funding to cover 100 percent of the cost of construction of low-income housing.

More sunshine

In Chicago, reform could mean fuller implementation of the TIF Sunshine Ordinance approved in 2009.  Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), coauthor of the measure, described his disappointment with its implementation to Chicago Talks – including the city’s claim that documents that should have been posted couldn’t be located.

Community activists monitoring neighborhood TIFs say it’s still hard to get information.  Gaete, who works with the Chicago Central Park TIF advisory council, says it’s not clear how officials come up with financial projections and other numbers.

Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance, who holds an annual town hall meeting reporting on seven TIFs around North Lawndale, said its impossible to learn how many community residents have gotten jobs or what minority contracts have been awarded.

Special programs which are supposed to provide TIF support for residents – including home improvements, small business support and job training – use TIF money but aren’t listed in TIF budgets, making them impossible to track, she said.

Students: Emanuel errs on charter performance

Rahm Emanuel “didn’t do his homework” when he touted the supposed superiority of charter schools in a televised debate, three Chicago high school students assert in a Youtube video that’s attracted widespread attention.

Chicago news media didn’t do its homework, either, when it allowed Emanuel’s baseless assertion to pass unchallenged.

In the debate on WGN on January 27, Emanuel said: “If you take out Northside [College Prep], if you take out Walter Payton, the seven best performing high schools are all charters.”

In fact, none of the best-performing high schools are charters, the students point out.

“Four hundred thousand students go to their neighborhood public schools [in Chicago],” they say on the video.  “You want a real school turnaround? Invest in us!”  The video supports Miguel del Valle’s candidacy.

Sullivan junior Gerardo Aguilar, who’s involved in a Mikva Challenge civic participation project at the school, attended a January 17 candidates forum sponsored by Mikva and WTTW.  He says he liked Del Valle’s repeated emphasis on neighborhood schools, and he came back to school and organized fellow members of the Latino Club to canvas for him.

On the last Saturday of January, they watched the WGN debate online, so they’d have a better grasp of the issues when they went door-to-door later that day.

‘Did you hear what he said?’

They immediately realized Emanuel’s error; they knew that nearby Lane Tech was a top-ranked school, Aguilar said.

“We were talking about it: ‘Did you hear what he said?'” relates Alexandra Alvarez, also a junior at Sullivan. “If he doesn’t care about neighborhood schools, what’s he going to do to help them?”

All in the same day, they researched the issue, scripted, shot, and edited the video, and posted it on Youtube, with the help of a neighbor who’d been Aguilar’s coach for the Young Leaders Conference of the National Hispanic Institute.

(Latino Club advisor Jacquelyn Rosa gives an account of the video’s creation at Achy Obejas’s Citylife blog.)

As far as Emanuel’s inaccuracy, the students’ charge is on the money, said Don Moore of Designs for Change, who analyzed rankings at Newstips’ request.

In fact, the top nine high schools – based on the percentage of students at or above state standards in combined reading, math, and science scores on the Prairie State Achievement Examination – are all public, non-charter schools, he said.

“Emanuel’s claim has no factual basis,” Moore said.

The Emanuel campaign did not respond to a request for clarification.

Not only are no charters among Chicago’s top-ranked high schools; not one charter is among the twelve Chicago high schools with 50 percent or more of students meeting standards.

Unlike charters, eleven of the top performing schools are governed by Local School Councils, which select their principals for four-year performance contracts. (The twelfth, Rickover Military Academy, has an advisory LSC.)  Also unlike charters, all twelve are staffed by unionized teachers.

In addition to favoring privately-operated, nonunion charters, Emanuel has called for removing the power of public school LSCs to appoint principals – a central accountability feature of Chicago school reform – and returning it to the central bureaucracy.  (Several efforts by Mayor Daley to accomplish this over recent years failed to gain traction in Springfield.)  And Emanuel has backed legislative efforts to severely constrain teachers’ seniority and collective bargaining rights.

‘Fix existing schools’

For the students, the concern seems to be continued disinvestment in neighborhood schools to benefit new schools that soak up resources but serve much smaller numbers of students, without better results.

“There are schools that already exist that need fixing, that need resources,” said Alvarez.

“Going to a neighborhood school, we don’t have a lot of resources,” she said.  But although “the attention the school gets is for violence, gangs and drugs,” there are “programs that help students do better.”

Aguilar mentions the school’s medical careers academy, as well as the Paideia program, which was withdrawn last year when funding ran out.

Beyond that is a concern that school policy will be based on prejudices rather than facts.  Emanuel’s misstatement “shows that the people that people think know everything aren’t really looking into the problems they say they want to fix,” said Christina Henriquez.

Moore backs this up too. “The public needs to know the truth about the charter school myths,” said Moore.  “A lot of their supporters speak of them as the solution, but the evidence doesn’t bear this out.”

He cites a study (pdf) commissioned by the Renaissance Schools Fund, a business-backed group that raises money for charter schools in Chicago, that found no difference in achievement when matched pairs of charter and public school students were compared over two years.

Indeed, Moore’s analysis indicates that more than two-thirds of the charters currently serving grades 9 through 12 have less than 27 percent of students meeting standards.

Finding Emanuel’s error “got us to ask, how much does he really know about schools?” said Henriquez.  And it led them to fear that “he doesn’t care about us.”

Beyond all that, perhaps, the students’ achievement – catching a significant gaffe by a major candidate which completely slipped past the city’s news media (this reporter included) – is a testament to the unsung accomplishments of students and teachers at Sullivan and in neighborhood schools across the city.

TIF funds for housing, schools

With the city’s inspector general reporting that over a million dollars in Central Loop TIF funds were lost, SEIU members will rally tomorrow at City Hall with alderman who support a Sweet Home Chicago Coalition proposal to dedicate 20 percent of the city’s TIF revenues to affordable housing.

The rally takes place on the 2nd floor of City Hall at 9 a.m., Wednesday, June 30.

“Union members are feeling the impact of the foreclosure crisis in their neighborhoods and see the ordinance as a way to reverse the trend of crime and abandonment,” according to a release from SEIU Local 1 and SEIU Healthcare.  The unions represent tens of thousands of Chicago residents.

Chicago Jobs With Justice is also participating in the rally.

A hearing on the ordinance at a joint meeting of the City Council’s finance and real estate committees is set for July  7.

The ordinance has 25 aldermanic cosponsors, according to Eithne McMenamin of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.  (For more on the ordinance see last October’s Newstip.)

Meanwhile the Raise Your Hand Coalition, which has received no response to a letter to Mayor Daley asking for a meeting on recapturing TIF funds for public schools, is preparing to launch a mass letter-writing and e-mail campaign to support the call, said Amy Smolensky.

The group, which includes parents at over 250 CPS schools, recently generated 120,000 letters and e-mails opposed to higher class sizes.  They were invited to a press conference yesterday where CPS chief Ron Huberman announced elementary class sizes would remain at current levels.

The coalition, which is dedicated to a long-term solution to Illinois schools’ chronic funding crisis, supports the Chicago Teacher’s Union call for greater budget transparency, Smolensky said.

Good schools for all kids: Yes we can?

It can happen here.  Indeed, it has happened here.

After federal spending on education and anti-poverty efforts ramped up in the 1960s, there came a point where urban schools were spending as much per pupil as suburban schools.  Racial disparities in achievement rates were cut in half, and were on track to disappear.   For a brief and unique moment in the mid-70s, black and Latino kids were attending college at rates comparable to whites.

Then came Reagan, who cut the education budget in half, and “conservatives introduced a new theory of reform focused on outcomes rather than inputs.”  That’s the theory behind what passes for school reform today.

This is from Linda Darling-Hammond’s contribution to the Nation’s special issue on A New Vision for School Reform.  She contrasts the United States with nations across Europe and Asia that she says are succeeding in providing high quality education to all their students.

The U.S. is “among the nations where socioeconomic background most affects student outcomes,” because we have greater income inequality “and because the United States spends much more educating affluent children than poor children.”  And in many states, segregation and inequality of funding is increasing.

The Obama-Duncan program doesn’t address (and probably exacerbates) funding inequalities, and what it does address won’t help.

Their framework “envisions competition and sanctions as the primary drivers of reform rather than capacity-building and strategic investments,” Darling-Hammond writes. “No nation has become high-achieving by sanctioning schools based on test-score targets and closing those that serve the neediest students without providing adequate resources and quality teaching.”

Elsewhere in the issue, Diane Ravitch writes about “Why I Changed My Mind” on No Child Left Behind and on the sloganeering around “choice” and “accountability” in education.

After the 2008 campaign, she writes, “I expected that Obama would throw out NCLB and start over.”  Instead, “his admininistration has embraced some of the worst features of the George W. Bush era.”

“None of the policies that involve testing and accountability – vouchers and charters, merit pay and closing schools – will give us the quantum improvement that we want for public education.  They may even make things worse.

“We need a long-term plan that strengthens public education and rebuilds the education profession,” including better-educated teachers, principals who are master teachers, rich curriculums, and attention to the conditions in which children live.

Susan Eaton compares magnet schools (with their mission of racial integration), with charters, which tend to “exacerbate segregation” and associated inequities.  (Black students in charters are twice as likely as their counterparts in traditional schools to attend segregated schools.)  That charters don’t upset the racial stratification of public education “may be exactly what makes them, at first glance, appear politically neater than magnet schools.”

David Kirp looks at community schools, which at their best can provide the kinds of things we know help kids learn: longer instructional time, more adults in the classroom, cultural and recreational programming, more parental involvement, and support services to remove obstacles to learning.  But so far Obama’s education department has been “better on rhetoric than dollars for community schools.”

Guest editor Pedro Noguera points out that no progress is likely until policy makers figure out “why NCLB failed to do more to improve schools in high-poverty communities” and “[reject] simplistic approaches.”



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