I have just been invited by Associate Professor Robert T. Starks to serve as a guest speaker for one of his classes at the Northeastern Illinois University Center for Inner City Studies next month. We’re still working out the details, but I will share lessons learned from North Lawndale with respect to education and community development, looking at government-funded programs, their impact and recommendations going forward. I am sure this will be a lively discussion.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that we are not anti-charter school. Charter schools are merely a legal structure. The legal structure in and of itself should not matter. What does matter is school quality, and the de-stabilizing impact of mass school closures on low-income minority communities. Unfortunately, current educational policies encourage mass closings of traditional public schools while also encouraging the rapid expansion of charter schools. Not only is this disruptive to students that can least afford disruption, but it severely impairs the quality and sustainability of public and charter schools. This is not in the best interest of students, taxpayers, parents or teachers.
We want to take the time to thank everyone who has signed onto our petition to President Obama to stop education policies that encourage the mass closing of public schools while rapidly expanding charter schools. As of this writing, we have over 1,200 signers from 46 states and Puerto Rico. This is a great start, and sends a strong statement. However, in order to get a public response on the President’s We the People website, we need to get 25,000 signatures by January 30, 2013. Please visit http://wh.gov/Ua20 to sign and share this petition. Please commit to getting 10 additional signers. Your cooperation is most appreciated. A copy of the text of the petition is found below.
Stop education policies that promote massive closing of traditional public schools while expanding charter schools.
Mass school closings have proven to be disruptive to low-income minority communities, and the negative impact could outweigh the benefits. Students who transfer as a result of school closings could initially lose up to 6 months in academic achievement. Under-performing neighborhood schools are typically replaced by charter schools that perform no better. It takes at least 5 years for new schools to fully develop. In some districts nearly 40% of charters have experienced serious cash flow problems, and a significant number are having difficulty complying with state-mandated pension funding requirements. Across the nation, it is expected that 15% of charter schools will fail. Low-income minority students, who are already struggling, cannot afford such instability.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of school closings or charter school expansion, you should be very concerned by the recent trend of massive school closings and rapid expansion of charter schools. Many charter schools are expanding at a faster rate than can be sustained financially or academically. As a result, some charters have not been able to sustain the academic progress or operating stability they experienced in the past. Likewise, the wholesale closure of public schools has caused a shock in the system that extends beyond the classrooms. The social and economic costs outweigh any savings to be gained. These costs include disruption to students’ learning; increased violence; displacement of teachers; reduction in salaries and costs of starting up new schools and disposing of public assets (which could be better spent in the classroom). It should be noted that rapid expansion of any type of school–whether charter, selective enrollment, magnet or neighborhood–without the financial capacity or sufficient population will result in failure.
Chicago Public Schools, if left to its own devices, will continue to start new charter schools in communities with declining populations. As a result, Chicago Public Schools has more available seats than students. CPS has at one point claimed that there are 600,000 seats in the system, and only 400,000 students.
CPS is in the process of preparing to close over 100 schools in an effort to correct the problem. Unfortunately, the data they are using to make decisions are incomplete and inaccurate. CPS has only recently engaged a firm to help them complete a master facilities planning process. The study–which will only include half of CPS’s school buildings– will not be complete before June, 2014. In the meantime, CPS will proceed to close schools without a master facilities plan in place. A list of the schools they intend to close will be released by March 31, 2013.
The consequences of closing schools are significant, and should not be taken lightly. Students stand to initially lose 6 months’ academic achievement as a result of transferring to different schools. Unfortunately, the replacement schools often perform at the same levels or worse than the schools that close. New schools take at least 5 years to fully develop. On top of that, a study of Chicago charter school finances revealed that nearly 40% have had significant cash flow problems in recent years, including challenges funding state mandated contributions to teacher pension plans. This does not bode very well for long term sustainability for some charter schools. Unfortunately, the children who are most likely to be impacted are the ones who can least afford the disruptions.
The Governor and the Illinois Legislature should create an Illinois Educational Facilities Planning Board to regulate the development and expansion of schools in the State of Illinois. School districts should be able to demonstrate 1) financial ability to complete the proposed construction or expansion project; 2) the capacity to operate the school and make contributions to teacher pension funds or other retirement plans; 3) market demand, as evidenced by demographic trends, number and types of schools, available seats and educational goals and objectives of the district.
Sign onto our petition at (http://signon.org/sign/illinois-legislature)
Valerie F. Leonard
The Lawndale Alliance
Here is a link to an article I wrote for the September 27, 2012-October 4, 2012 issue of the North Lawndale Community News.
Here is a link to my first article in my column for the North Lawndale Community News. This appears in the August 23-30th issue.
I was on the In Touch Ministries website, and stumbled on the following article, written by Rev. Charles Stanley.
In one movie adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s book “War and Peace,” the narrator declares, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” What responsibilities do Christians have when they see their country heading in an ungodly direction? Let’s look at seven ways believers can stand up and take action.
1. Choose wise leadership.
In this nation, we have the opportunity to select many of the people who will be in authority over us. Unfortunately, a number of Americans never exercise their right to vote. They rationalize that they don’t know the nominees, that none of the candidates are godly, or that one ballot can’t make a difference. But believers have a responsibility to investigate each contender and cast an intelligent vote.
Visit http://www.intouch.org/you/bible-studies/content?topic=civic_responsibility_study to finish reading the article.h
I am a member of the Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee, convened by the University of Illinois Nathalie Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement and the Participatory Budgeting Project. The role of the Steering Committee is to work with the University, community based organizations and members of City Council to bring participatory budgeting to every ward in the City. The 49th Ward, headed by Alderman Joe Moore, is the first and only ward in the city that has an active participatory budgeting process. Alderman Moore, his staff and ward volunteers have been very helpful in our understanding of how the process works in the 49th Ward. We are taking lessons learned from their experiences to apply to what we hope will be a city wide program in which each alderman works with their constituents to identify and prioritize infrastructure projects that will be funded through their annual $1.3 million infrastructure menu. The menu covers things like street lights, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, street resurfacing, etc. It does not cover costs for running programs and services.
The 49th Ward process is set up such that resident-headed committees identify improvements that should be made, do the research as to how much the improvements cost and interface with the City agency responsible for the work. The committees then hold assemblies where they make presentations to ward residents. The projects are refined, and then later included on a ballot, to be voted on by community residents on a day set for voting. On the day of voting, residents go to one of the local schools to cast their votes. If they wish, they can walk through an exhibit area to review displays of the projects and speak with committee members who are promoting the various projects.
To date, there are a handful of aldermen from other wards who have signed onto the process, or have expressed strong interest. These include Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th), Alderman Ameya Pawar (47), Alderman Scott Waguespack (32) and Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22). To date, Alderman Munoz is the only West Side Alderman to sign on or show interest.
Do you think participatory budgeting should be implemented on the West Side? Why or why not? Would you be interested in learning more about the process? Please let me know.
May 24, 2012 edition of the North Lawndale News. This edition includes a copy of a letter to the editor from the Lawndale Alliance and the Progressive Action Coalition for Education regarding our reasons for opposing HB4277-Amendment 1.
Chicago Aldermen recently approved of a $7 billion infrastructure trust to privately finance capital projects for the city in years to come. Click onto the link below to download a copy of Valerie’s letter to Aldermen urging them to strengthen the ordinance.
<a title=”View Letter to Aldermen Regarding the Chicago Investment Trust 4-23-12 on Scribd” href=”http://www.scribd.com/doc/90807901/Letter-to-Aldermen-Regarding-the-Chicago-Investment-Trust-4-23-12″ style=”margin: 12px auto 6px auto; font-family: Helvetica,Arial,Sans-serif; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 14px; line-height: normal; font-size-adjust: none; font-stretch: normal; -x-system-font: none; display: block; text-decoration: underline;”>Letter to Aldermen Regarding the Chicago Investment Trust 4-23-12</a><iframe class=”scribd_iframe_embed” src=”http://www.scribd.com/embeds/90807901/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-2grai8wagi53vs8l1wwq” data-auto-height=”true” data-aspect-ratio=”0.772727272727273″ scrolling=”no” id=”doc_94477″ width=”100%” height=”600″ frameborder=”0″></iframe>