Author of study on inequality in TIF-funded CPS schools highlights potential dangers

Author of study on inequality in TIF-funded CPS schools highlights potential dangers
TIF-funded school construction (Image courtesy of Roosevelt Universtiy)

A Roosevelt University study released last week outlines several disparities in how the city has funded several Chicago Public Schools construction projects through Tax Increment Financing.

The report, penned by sociology professor Stephanie Farmer, found that the majority of TIF dollars spent on CPS projects, 52 percent, went to selective enrollment schools. Those schools make up 1 percent of CPS.

Neighborhood schools account for 69 percent of the school system, and have gotten 48 percent of the funding.

Also, 78 percent of the funding has gone to schools on the North Side, a more affluent section of the city.

Meanwhile, neighborhood schools located on the mostly African-American South Side--which the report identifies as "some of the city's most economically depressed neighborhoods"--have received far less funding.

The funding inequities, Farmer argues in the report, contribute to race and income inequalities, and have allowed kids to slip more easily into the criminal justice system.

The Chicago Reporter talked with Farmer about her report.

In the report you mention several times that neighborhood schools--they account for 69 percent of CPS--have gotten "shortchanged" when compared to the amount of TIF money selective enrollment schools have received. Why is this problematic?

It's problematic because selective enrollment schools only compose one percent, and neighborhood schools account for 69 percent of CPS. The exclusive enrollment schools don't have to take the neighborhood kids, like the neighborhood schools do. Those that live in the TIF district expect that their property tax dollars would be going to schools for their kids; in some sense it doesn't live up to the expectation of parents.*

*Farmer notes in the report that selective enrollment schools can be financed "on the backs of those excluded". That is, parents who live in a TIF district that bankrolled the construction of a nearby selective enrollment school might not see their property taxes benefit their child's education because the school doesn't have to admit local kids, like a neighborhood school does.

Why do you think the city places more of an emphasis on putting public money behind selective enrollment schools?

When Daley was around in the 90's the sentiment was that young, middle-class families would move out of the city when their kids had to go to school, because they would think that the school system in Chicago sucks. So the city began putting TIF money into the selective enrollment schools to retain those parents. This catered to a middle-class sensibility that CPS and the city were getting the school system under control. And restrictive enrollment schools, which require certain test scores, letters from counselors and other sorts of filtering, appeal to the middle-class sensibility because the thinking is it weeds out the bad kids. But that's problematic because it leaves the neighborhood schools and plenty of other kids behind.

Most of the schools that received TIF money are clustered on the North Side. This means neighborhood schools in mostly black, South Side communities have not seen nearly as much TIF investment. Why?

My answer is inconclusive. There's definitely disinvestment on the South Side, though. But there are selective enrollment schools in African American communities. I think the city's larger strategy in the African American community is to allow selective enrollment schools there to get a foothold in the system. Because the thinking is: the more we can expand charters in the African American community, the more popular they'll be in Chicago. So the city will be able to slowly but surely replace public schools with private control, and also implement a system that doesn't depend on unionized labor.

The report also mentions the need for investment in special education schools, which have seen no TIF dollars. What's more, you write that there is a correlation between this and kids who end up in the criminal justice system. Can you elaborate on this?

Kids that have special-ed needs tend to act up more because they’re not getting their needs met, which can lead to suspensions and expulsions. The moment a kid is expelled his or her chances of dropping out of school increases by 10 times. We need to invest in intellectual development so kids stay in school and increase their chances of gaining legal employment.

Do the laws governing the use of TIF dollars make it a flawed system? That is, a poorer community with less property tax revenue is not going to garner as much money as a wealthier one, which, arguably, doesn't need the public money as much as the poorer community.

It seems counter-intuitive, right? You have underdeveloped areas reliant on their own underdevelopment, as opposed to having some general pool. You should have a development pool at the state or even national level. The more you fragment a development fund, the more uneven it's going to be.

The questions and answers have been edited to fit this post

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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