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Closures of 53 schools tied to education profiteering, say critics

Protestors block a downtown city street to protest the closing of 53 Chicago Public schools

Education in Crisis

Closures of 53 schools tied to education profiteering, say critics

By La Risa Lynch

 (This is Part One  of a Two part series on education and school shutdowns. Part 2 will examine school failure, Black children and the state of public education.)

     CHICAGO, ILL ( – Emotions ran high as hundreds flooded Chicago streets to protest Chicago Public Schools’ decision to shutter 53 elementary schools that opponents of the plan say lacked community in-put, disregards student safety and doesn’t improve schools.

     The head of the Chicago Teachers Union stirred the crowd when she called the Chicago Public School plan racist. “Let’s not pretend when you close schools primarily on the south and west sides (of Chicago) that the children who would be affected are Black. Let’s not pretend that’s not racist,” said Karen Lewis, a 22 year veteran teacher.

     CPS says the school closings are necessary since many of its buildings are underutilized. The district has 500,000 seats, but only 400,000 students. Students from schools slated for closure will be consolidated into existing better performing schools, officials say.

    CPS officials say the move is to realign a district facing a budget crunch and has seen a decline in its student population. The $1 billion saved from the closures over the next 10 years would be redirected as resource back into the schools, they say.

     “The city has been losing population and student population for a couple of decades, and we have changed the foot-print of the school system to keep pace,” CPS spokesperson Dave Miranda said.

     But educational advocates say that what’s happening in Chicago is emblematic of a greater national push to privatize and capitalize public education.

     School districts in Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit have seen their fair share of school closings. Detroit plans to close nine schools and convert four to charter schools, while New York targeted 17 for closures, according to news reports.

     Chicago, however, has set a precedent by closing so many schools, says Horace R. Hall, Ph.D., DePaul University’s associate professor of education policy studies and research. Mr. Hall believes Chicago will be a model for other major cities to follow when closing schools.

     “You had a number close to that in D.C., but nothing like this anywhere,” Mr. Hall said. “So there needs to be backlash. This backlash is the correct response to a criminal act.”

     Mr. Hall noted that 90 percent of schools slated to close are in Black low-income neighborhoods. The majority of those kids go from one failing school to another.

     Additionally, students in low performing schools are less likely to meet charter school admission requirements while many charter schools don’t offer English-learner or special ed classes, he said. Closing schools take away a child’s right to a public education, Mr. Hall added.

     “We are leaving a lot of families and their children high and dry,” he said.

     Similar education reforms have put 60 Philadelphia pubic schools in the crossfire. The Philadelphia school system plans to close 60 schools over the next two years. The district closed eight last year and plan a whopping 23 schools this year—all serving predominately poor neighborhoods of color in the city of Brotherly Love.

     However that number is down from 37 after community groups, parents, students and unions organized against the move. This round of closing only impacts nearly 13,000 students compared to 17,000 under the original proposal. School performances, budget woes and utilization were key reasons Philadelphia shuttered schools. But Ron Whitehorne, of Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), cites a movement to turn education into a commodity as the real reason for Philadelphia to close schools.

     “There is a conscious well developed strategy to privatize school districts,” Mr. Whitehorne said. “There is a very strong charter school lobby here.”

     He noted that several organizations, including the Gates Foundation “has put a lot of money into charter schools.” Many charter school boards, he explained, are comprised of CEOs and hedge fund managers.

     “They are not doing it because they love poor school children. They are doing it because there is money to be made,” Mr. Whitehorne said.


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