Chicago Public Schools has issued a call for new charter schools only months after what has been described as “the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district.” The nation’s third-largest school district has closed 50 schools in a restructuring that affected an estimated 46,000 children—most of whom were Black.
The 52-page “Request for Proposals for New Schools” was “posted without fanfare on the district’s website” in mid-August, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The charter schools would be located in neighborhoods on the city’s Northwest and Southwest Sides “where district-run schools have been complaining of overcrowding.”
The charters would be located in largely white and Latino neighborhoods. The school closures that the district approved in May were described as largely “poorly performing schools in African-American neighborhoods on the South and West sides where enrollment has sagged in recent years,” reported the Chicago Tribune.
“CPS says 30,000 children [would] be impacted by school closings,” reported WBEZ Radio. “But the district’s plan actually will touch more than 46,000 children.”
Nearly 90 percent of the students in the schools targeted for closure were Black, EBONY.com reported in March. This contrasts to citywide data where only 42 percent of CPS students are Black.
“This is definitely a race and class issue. We [did] not see these closures in communities that are not Black,” Wanda Hopkins, education coordinator of the South Austin Coalition Community Council, told EBONY.com. The Austin neighborhood on the city’s West Side was among “the communities that [experienced] the most closings,” reported Catalyst, the city’s well-respected journal on urban education. Austin is also among the city’s “most violent neighborhoods” and hard-hit by gangs and gun violence.
Chicago has the distinction of being “the most racially segregated city in the country,” according to Census data. The city lost a substantial amount of its Black population—some 17 percent or about 181,000 people—between 2000 and 2010. Many Blacks moved to the suburbs or the South—especially after “the city [demolished] eighty-two public-housing high-rises citywide,” reported Harper’s in May 2012. The city’s White and Latino populations have increased—and overcrowding has become a reality in many schools on the Northwest and Southwest Sides.
The Chicago Teachers Union has criticized the district’s request for new charters and slammed what it described as the gradual “privatization” of the city’s public schools. “Clearly, with the new RFP for more charters, CPS is accelerating its plans to gut our public school system,” said Stephanie Gadlin, a spokeswoman for the CTU. “This is a smack in the face to the thousands of school children whose lives have been disrupted by the largest school closings in U.S. history.”
There are “more than 125 charter campuses” within CPS’ portfolio of more than 625 schools in the new school year that started on August 26. Non-profit organizations and for-profit companies administer most charters.
Hopkins and other education advocates have raised concerns that closed school buildings will be offered to charter operators. “But what if they don’t get the results they desire? They will pull out,” Hopkins told EBONY.com. “They are using our children as a test.”
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has claimed that closed buildings will “not” be offered to charter operators. But the chairman of the new committee appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel tasked to offer “recommendations for repurposing closed school facilities” says otherwise.
Wilbur Milhouse, “owner of one of Chicago’s largest African-American construction and engineering firms,” told the Sun-Times in late August that he hasn’t “been given a parameter … to stop any community from turning [closed schools] into a charter.”
The Sun-Times also noted that one person on the mayor’s committee “is a board member of the Erie Elementary Charter School.”
Some parents, educators, charter school proponents and politicians question the district’s new strategy to create new charters as a “solution to overcrowding,” reported Catalyst.
“The community does not want a divergence of public resources [from] existing public schools being taken away to create more charter schools,” said Democratic Committeeman Raymond Lopez of the 15th Ward on the city’s Southwest Side.
“I’m very concerned about charter schools and the possibility that some closed buildings [could] become charters,” educator advocate Hopkins told EBONY.com. “Our children have been suffering for decades. If we had a $1 billion deficit, where [did] they get the money to do this?”