The proposed closing of 54 local elementary schools, as well as the consolidating of several others, that serve Chicago’s poorest children is the wrong action at the wrong time.
These are the in the city’s poorest neighborhoods that are in the midst violence. The list is smaller than previously reported, but it still reflects too much harmful commotion in targeted areas. These actions would further destabilize unstable neighborhoods and puts at-risk children at greater risk. It is not entirely clear what the real motives of the powers-that-be are. But this “playing God” action of uprooting poor children and disrupting their fragile communities is just plain wrong.
We know that 90 percent of the disruption will be in the poorest black communities of Chicago. That should bring reflective pause in and of itself. This massive, planned chaos has not been done anywhere else in the nation. If we were looking for the contemporary version of “separate and unequal” public education policy, we have found it in Chicago.
We also now know that the formula to determine “under-utilized” neighborhood public school is faulty. It was based on having 30 elementary school students assigned to a classroom. That student/teacher ratio is much too large for the attentive needs of poor children. Small classrooms matter, mostly for children with the greatest needs. Meanwhile, we are launching charter schools in the very areas with all these “empty seats.” Yet, only one-fifth of the charters outperform their neighborhood school. These grand experiments with faulty formulas and free enterprise educators for poor children should give further cause for pause.
The last thing struggling communities need are shuttered public school buildings. It’s the death knell for a community like West Garfield Park. Our church has built affordable single-family housing. What is the value of our investments going look like with massive disinvestment of public dollars? It looks like our government has red-lined us without our informed consent. The people of our communities long to be a part of the thriving Chicago. With tax incremental finance dollars funding projects everywhere but the communities in the most need, it feels like some people are seeking to shut the poorest families out of the future of Chicago. The school closing plans will not save dollars the first year. But the closures will pretty much insure that many low-income communities will fall below rock bottom.
And no one has shown how struggling poor children will fair better educationally under this school closing plan. But we could predict that they will fair much worse as a result of this chaotic mass closure. We can predict that by the longer distances they’ll have to travel through unsafe neighborhoods while attending experimental, consolidated schools. We can predict that by poor youngsters from fragile families getting caught in dangerous cross fires from gangs.
We will probably save some money in the long run, but we could lose countless children and whole communities as a result. No thoughtful, empowered parent would voluntarily risk their child’s future on such a shaky proposition.
What’s most disappointing is to see that Mayor Emmanuel was out of town on a skiing vacation trip when the closing numbers were announced last Thursday. We know the mayor’s a stand-up guy. One of his endearing qualities is his ability to make tough decisions — and can take the heat for making them. We hope the way this has played out does not reflect a lack of focus on public education for the poorest children. His children, and many of ours, have excellent educational options. We do necessarily not rely on the public system to offer our children quality options. We, and most importantly our children, are certainly blessed. But our moral values, and often our personal experiences, makes us care about every child. And so our values and concerns gives us reason to pause. Let’s not do all of this now. It’s too much and too uncertain.
Rev. Hatch is senior pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park