Chicago Public Schools have laid off thousands of employees and teachers in the latest rounds of a massive restructuring described as “the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district.” The restructuring has closed 50 schools and affected an estimated 46,000 children—the overwhelming majority of whom were Black.
Black teachers have also been hit hardest by the restructuring. The layoffs in the Chicago schools have followed similar public sector layoffs nationwide and across Chicago—fueling “a shrinking Black middle class” in a city that has been hit hard by unemployment, poverty, foreclosures and gun violence.
Only 29 percent of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, compared to 45 percent in 1995, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. At least “43 percent of those [teachers] laid off,” have been Black according to a 2011 analysis of Illinois State Board of Education data reported by In These Times.
“We have seen a huge downward trend in the number of Black teachers at CPS. It is a very serious problem,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis tells EBONY.com.
The latest round of layoffs in July trimmed more than 2,100 employees and included more than 1,000 teachers—“approximately 4 percent” of the entire teaching staff, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. That happened only one month after the district shed more than 800 jobs. The layoffs have accompanied numerous rounds of school closings and “turnarounds” in the nation’s third largest school district.
“Entire faculties are fired and must reapply for positions in turnarounds,” says Lewis. “These situations have been extremely challenging on Black middle-aged faculty members who often have advanced degrees and seniority.”
The union filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2012 alleging that the layoffs and turnarounds have “targeted tenured African-American teachers.” The EEOC complaint follows a similar federal lawsuit filed in December 2011.
“The complaints states that African-American comprised 43 percent of those laid off in 2011, which was about 1,000 teachers,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “While white teachers make up 47 percent of the district's total, they represented only 36 percent of those laid off.”
Most of the new teachers hired by the district are White. Sixty percent of CPS teachers’ with five years or less experience are White, according to the union.
“This is a by-product of school-based budgeting,” CTU President Karen Lewis told EBONY.com. “You only get ‘x’ amount of dollars per student. There is an incentive to hire brand new—and lower paid—teachers.”
The district has denied that it is targeting Black teachers and has disputed the union’s numbers.
The situation in Chicago reflects a “nationwide epidemic of school closings and teacher firings” that has disproportionately affected Black teachers from Philadelphia to Detroit to Los Angeles. It is part of a much larger trend of “downsizing” public sector jobs that has “been singularly harmful to middle-class blacks,” reported the New York Times. That’s because about one in five African-Americans work in government jobs, according to the Department of Labor.
“African-Americans in the public sector earn 25 percent more than other black workers,” reported the New York Times in a front-page November 2011 article. “The jobs have long been regarded as respectable, stable work for college graduates, allowing many to buy homes, send children to private colleges and achieve other markers of middle-class life that were otherwise closed to them.”
“More than 177,000 Blacks [lost] jobs in the public sector” from 2007 to 2012, according to a May 2012 report by the Economic Policy Institute. The report found the continuing high rate of black unemployment is partly a result of a “sizable and continuing drop in the number of African-Americans employed by state and local governments,” reported TheGrio.com. The August 2013 unemployment rate among Blacks is estimated at 13 percent. The national unemployment rate is almost half that—at about 7 percent.
"This is a very dire situation," Valerie Rawlston Wilson, an economist with the National Urban League Policy Institute, told the Chicago Tribune. "Even for blacks who have college degrees, we've seen a doubling of their unemployment (rate) between 2007 and 2010."
Meanwhile in Chicago: Arts and music public school teachers targeted for layoffs received a reprieve. They will not be laid off, says the union. CPS realizes the restructuring “is extraordinarily disruptive,” says Lewis. “This a hot mess buttery mess of a train wreck.”