PI Original Angela Caputo Tuesday February 3rd, 2009, 3:15pm

School Reform Activists Gain A Springfield Ally

Add state Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) to the growing list of folks pushing for grassroots reforms in Chicago Public Schools. The Tribune reports today that Soto is calling for a one-year moratorium on school closures and reorganizations, which would buy her some time to ...

Add state Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) to the growing list of folks pushing for grassroots reforms in Chicago Public Schools. The Tribune reports today that Soto is calling for a one-year moratorium on school closures and reorganizations, which would buy her some time to push through legislation that would “develop new standards to regulate how buildings in the district are used and would dictate how the district closes schools.”

Without question, the legislation is a direct jab at Mayor Daley’s ever-evolving Renaissance 2010 initiative, which has closed or reorganized dozens of schools with little public input. Last year alone, 18 institutions were shuttered under the initiative. On February 25, the school board will determine the fate of 22 more, putting the district on track to exceed its goal of transforming 100 schools by 2010.

There’s no question that some of the targeted schools have sat half-empty or underperformed. But the rub for parents, teachers, and Soto is the lack of communication from CPS —and ultimately Daley—about how these decisions are being made. “The rules change as they go along,” a teacher’s union source told the Sun-Times last month.

That’s fueled suspicion that the decisions are driven more by the desire to create some showcase schools and outsource others than the goal of raising standards for a majority of students.

The impending closure of Carpenter Elementary, in Soto’s district, is a prime example. That institution will likely reopen as a high school for children from the swanky Gold Coast neighborhood (who will be bussed over to the West Side). Principal Ida Munoz had this to say to about the plan to the Sun-Times:

“They’re kicking out kids who are disadvantaged to make room for those who have more,” [...]

“Schools on the West Side are so overcrowded, and they keep telling us it costs too much money to bus them out of the area. But they’re going to spend money to bus in kids from the Gold Coast,” Munoz said. “There’s no money for busing poor kids, but there’s money for busing rich kids?”

Soto’s bill is likely to face fierce opposition from the Daley administration. But a growing constituency of educators, advocates, parents, and the Chicago Teachers Union members are poised to create an uproar that even the mayor can't ignore.

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