Chicago Public School Closings

The Rev. Al Sharpton speats at a voting rally at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. Sharpton's visit was a preview of his scheduled march and rally next month, to raise awareness for the upcoming anniversary of

The Rev. Al Sharpton speats at a voting rally at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. Sharpton's visit was a preview of his scheduled march and rally next month, to raise awareness for the upcoming anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," the seminal event that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

Many large cities in the United States face difficulties with their public school systems. Among the most talked about is certainly the Chicago Public School (CPS) system, which is in the middle of taking drastic measures to salvage whatever financial stability it can. However, the method is being met by much resistance by teachers unions and parents across the city. The action causing this commotion is the proposed closing of 61 public schools in the city of Chicago, Illinois, which would be the largest school closing in US history.

This school closing accounts for a total of 9% of the city’s public schools. Teachers unions and parental groups have long been criticizing the decision to close these schools based on claims that the city’s records are misleading the public in their reports of populations of certain neighborhoods. Furthermore, these groups claim that this school closure will have only negative consequences with respect to the city’s poorest residents.

When asked to comment on the issue, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the reason for the decision is financial. The CPS system is the third largest public school system in the nation, and currently faces a $1 billion budget deficit for this upcoming fiscal year. The closing of each school will save the district somewhere between $500,000 and $800,000, which will help curb the effects of the budget deficit that the CPS system faces. Emanuel summed it up by saying, “Our students cannot wait for us to put off these difficult decisions any longer…This problem is not unique to Chicago, and like school systems where enrollment has dropped, we must make tough choices.”

The CPS officials in charge are indeed citing enrollment declines as a main reason for the closure of certain schools. Their records show that in the years 2000-2013 the city lost roughly 145,000 students. However, the school district’s personal records report a much different number, roughly half the amount reported by CPS officials. Additionally, an analysis of the US Census data shows an 18% drop in children from ages 5-19, as well as an increase from 69% to 80% of school aged children enrolled in the CPS system.

Additionally, despite claims by the city officials, Steve Tozer, a professor of education and director of the Center for Urban Education Leadership and the University of Illinois at Chicago, claims that closing such a high proportion of schools is not following a nationwide trend. Instead, he suggests that school districts feeling recessionary pressures have chosen to cut programs, personnel, and operating costs.

Attempting to point out what he believes to be the real issue, Tozer says, “It cannot be overlooked that the city of Chicago is being forced by the inequality of funding in the state of Illinois.” This is a reference to the CPS reports that Chicago receives 18.6% of the total state aid even though it serves 19.5% of the students in the state.
Many of the closures are taking place in neighborhoods that have long been plagued by street violence. This fact has led many to react in quite an uncivil manner. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is a prime example of this by spewing insults calling Emanuel “cowardly” and “the murder mayor” for the decisions that he has made on these issues.

Education is undoubtedly one of the most important resources to provide to children everywhere across the US. Unfortunately, with financial pressures rising, tough decisions will have to be made regarding the education systems in many cities. While this may be an extreme case in a specific area, it highlights the importance of keeping the education system healthy, especially in large metropolitan areas.