Chicago Public Schools’ perennial funding woes have occupied headlines since time immemorial, but recently, the bad news seems to be increasing in both quantity and severity. Recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Forrest Claypool, his CPS CEO, were forced to walk back statements that CPS schools would close weeks early if the state did not provide more money after a judge threw out their last-ditch lawsuit claiming the state’s public school formula is racially discriminatory. CPS was forced to take out a $389 million high-interest loan to keep schools open, which some aldermen compared to a “payday loan” and does not even entirely fill the budget gap. On top of that, the district is attempting to wring another $467 million it says the state owes it to make its pension payment next month, facing yet another bond rating downgrade if it does not make the payment.
Nestled in a quiet part of Roseland, at the corner of 99th Street and Indiana Avenue, sits what was once John G. Shedd Elementary School. Shedd Elementary served as a satellite school to nearby Bennett Elementary until 2013.
Two months ago, Englewood thirteen-year-old Tamya Fultz sparked a media flurry when she won first place in the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Academic Chess South Conference Playoffs, earning the epithet “Chess Queen of the South” from her math teacher and chess coach, Earle STEM Elementary School’s Joseph Ocol.
The popular image of a private all-girls Catholic high school usually evokes ideas of strict nuns, enforced uniformity, and fierce standards of discipline rather than notions of female empowerment. And yet at Queen of Peace High School, many alumnae, students, and even staff members would insist that progressive ideas were the foundation of the school. Again and again, the women I spoke to used the words “feminist” and “voice” to describe the fifty-five-year-old all-girls high school located on a fifteen-acre tract of land in Burbank, Illinois, a few blocks west of the Ford City Mall in West Lawn.
For everything there is a season—innocence, adolescence, first love. One major life experience, though, is not temporary, but changes along with the seasons of life: learning. A solid grammar school education can set a solid foundation for life. For many years, St. Columbanus School served that role in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Park Manor, providing a culturally rich, warm environment, as well as an academically rigorous one. According to St. Columbanus alumna Leslie Cain-Cauley, who graduated with the class of 1980, what made St. Columbanus special was that it was a family; parents were friends with each other outside of the school and supported the teachers, and the students had pride in the school. In 2015, however, St. Columbanus had to close its doors and merge with St. Dorothy School due to low enrollment. The merged schools became the Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy, which has a STREAM curriculum (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, Math). The new school not only marks the end of an era in this community, but points to the variety of changes in the Catholic community as a whole—economic, educational, and social.
In the summer and early fall of 2015, all eyes in Chicago’s education community were on the campaign and thirty-four-day hunger strike organized by community organizers, families, and educators, that successfully led to the reopening of Dyett High School in Washington Park as an arts school. Among the activists in the “Save Dyett” campaign were Dyett alumni and students, many of whom mobilized after feeling their communities and schools were being undervalued by city officials.
This school year, Chicago Public Schools saw a shocking enrollment loss of 1,882 students in its preschool programs, nearly six times greater than last year’s enrollment decrease. The drop in preschool enrollment accounted for seventeen percent of all attrition in the district—the largest decline in preschool enrollment since 2008. This dramatic change coincides with the introduction of a universal online application for Chicago public preschool programs, echoing a similar drop in preschool enrollment after a 2013 shift to a universal in-person application system.
On Friday, February 3, Paula Wyatt should have been at her school on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where she works as a librarian for 1100 students. This particular Friday was scheduled as a coveted (and contractually required) staff professional development day. Wyatt should have attended a discussion of LGBT issues in schools with staff from Lurie Children’s Hospital and a presentation by a bilingual specialist. She should have attended a curriculum-planning meeting, a grant-writing seminar in order to apply for library refurbishment funds, and a meeting with Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) mentors regarding the implementation of new Next Generation Science Standards. Her colleagues should have been engaging in other training and development opportunities or using the day for grading and meetings. But instead, on February 3, Wyatt’s school remained closed, like all the 516 other schools operated by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). This district-wide closure left over 31,000 CPS employees without pay and over 320,000 students unable to reap the benefits of those teacher-training programs.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) revealed late last year in their 2017 capital plan that a new seventy-five million dollar high school would be coming to the South Side. Initially, CPS did not release the location of the new high school, and several neighborhoods, such as Chinatown and Englewood, had been organizing and campaigning to be involved in the decision-making process.
Illinois’s public universities are facing a virtually insurmountable funding crisis. According to a report recently published by the nonpartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA), higher education in Illinois suffered a 67.8 percent cut in its allocations from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016, receiving approximately one-third of the recommended budget proposed by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE). Because of the state legislature’s failure to approve a complete budget for higher education, public universities operated on the minimal funding from the $627 million stopgap budget, a short-term budget that appropriated a small amount for expenditures in higher education through January 2017.