Updated: September 19, 2013 9:38PM
Recently the mayor has gone on a Tax Increment Financing spending spree and secured money for selective enrollment and magnet schools, Wildwood and Payton. Researcher Stephanie Farmer, from Roosevelt University, has found that 33 percent of TIF dollars returned to CPS go to selective enrollment schools, where approximately one percent of the students in Chicago attend. So much for equity.
It is obvious that all parents want access to the schools that have the most funding and top-notch facilities, like Payton. That is proven by the long waiting list of parents clamoring to enroll their children. However, the city’s approach to meet this demand is to offer the best option to the students who already have the greatest advantages: disproportionately white middle class students who are already primed for college success. Meanwhile, the district provides low-budget, largely mediocre charter options with low pay and high teacher turnover as the alternative for parents shut out of the selective schools.
When Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett lambastes the teachers union and CPS parents for pointing out the relationship between charter expansion and school closings, she blames the messenger. The district has been on a tear building charters over the last 10 years without delivering the promised results. At the same time, many charter networks, have aggressively pursued student enrollment with enticements to parents, robust marketing campaigns and through exploiting the accurate parent perception that they are getting the short end of the stick. This has led to more choices, but by and large not better choices.
What if the mayor and the schools CEO suddenly decided that it was time to address the historic inequalities that have left so many low-income students of color behind in our school system? This would require a Marshall Plan for our poorest neighborhoods, where our neighborhood schools were supported through a vast infusion of resources to address the “education debt” that has accrued over generations.
For too long, Chicago has poured countless education dollars into the schools that serve the most privileged students, thereby helping those who need the least and exacerbating the equity gap between black, Latino and white; rich and poor.
In order to accomplish this, the mayor would have to take a step back from splashy news conferences where he bestows a handful of schools with gifts while the vast majority of students are left behind. Instead, he would announce a TIF surplus where money could be invested in the schools with the greatest struggles while dismantling the TIF projects that subsidize wealthy companies and developers; he would demand a fair tax in Illinois and require the wealthy to pay their fair share; he would demand that big banks renegotiate toxic swaps with the city and the school district and send the savings to our classrooms. We can no longer hide behind the myths of “tough choices” and “limited resources.”
Unless and until our city leaders demand the schools our children deserve, there will continue to be the predictable winners and losers when these big projects are announced.
Jackson Potter is staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union.