Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, testifying at a public hearing on state education funding last Thursday in Oak Park, said CPS wants to build a high school in Austin if state funding is available.

Speaking before the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, Duncan, among about a dozen educators and activists testifying Sept. 18, said the state has fallen short on capital funds, preventing construction of new schools. After testifying, Duncan told Austin Weekly News that if state funding were available, CPS would commit to more capital projects, including in Austin.

“There’s a huge need for services there. We would love to build a series of new high schools throughout the city,” he said.

Duncan told the committee CPS has worked to close under-performing schools and open new ones, including charter schools, which are run by private groups and funded through mostly private donors, but are still considered “CPS schools.”

State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) specifically asked when CPS planned to build a new school in Austin.

Duncan replied: “There is a desperate need there. I can’t give you dates because, as you know, we’ve received no capital money from the state in six years. But if we received a dime from the state, Austin is a huge unmet need for a high school.”

After the hearing adjourned, Ford expressed skepticism about CPS’ commitment and funding argument, noting that the former Austin High School at 231 N. Pine, now housing three CPS-approved charter schools, is currently undergoing a roughly $20 million facelift to the building, which has taken place since the school officially closed in 2003.

Ford also noted CPS has been constructing schools in the six years Duncan claims state funding has been short. The new Westinghouse High School campus in Garfield Park, costing as estimated $47 million, is among the new schools. It is scheduled to open next year. In 2006, the city announced a $1 billion plan to build 24 new schools and renovations to three others in the coming years. The funds were to come from the city’s redevelopment funds from TIF (tax increment financing) districts. Westinghouse is among the schools supposedly funded through the TIF and not by the state. Much of the spending went for schools on the South Side. According to CPS’ own estimates, 60 percent of the total funding for the plan would come from available TIF money.

“They’re still building schools but [Duncan] says he doesn’t have enough money to build a school in Austin. … It doesn’t sound promising,” said Ford.