To the (white majority) school that has, more will be given

Guest blogger Walter Brzeski brings his wide knowledge of CPS facilities data to this piece. He's a longtime CPS substitute teacher as well as a fellow ChicagoNow blogger and prolific editorial letter writer. Here he looks at the simple question of basic facilities inequities. In the midst of ongoing legal and legislative action to correct the illegal reductions in special education services that CPS families faced last year, CPS retains its curious spending priorities. These priorities are extremely familiar and follow a well-established playbook that features inequitable distribution of resources apparently based on race.

By Walter Brzeski

If it is truly CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson's goal to "right some of the sins of the past" in the district, one good first step would be to pay attention to facilities spending. It quickly demonstrates district priorities--and clearly shows that many schools are not priorities. Some schools are deemed a "golden child" while others are not. Underfunded schools have current basic accessibility problems, while well-supported schools are getting a Field of Dreams.

One such disparity is found in the Far Northwest side of Chicago, in the neighborhood of current CPS golden child Taft High School. CPS showers the predominantly white Taft in an enormous amount of attention, money, and resources, while three predominantly Hispanic neighborhood high schools--Steinmetz, Schurz, and Foreman--get treated like yesterday’s news, have to wait for years for financial help, and are literally being drained of their students.

Taft is on a fast track to receive a new $70M school in the Dunning neighborhood (located in the 38th ward outside of their 41st ward) to help ease their current overcrowding problem. Taft's overcrowding is self-inflicted, a result of its poaching students from outside its attendance boundary for the IB program, Navy JROTC program, and 7th/8th grade Academic Center.

Questions remain why CPS has continued to allow Taft--the most overcrowded school in CPS--to accept students from outside their attendance boundary, especially as Steinmetz (1351 students, 73% Hispanic), Foreman (838 students, 74% Hispanic), and Schurz (1793 students, 79% Hispanic) have both IB and Army JROTC programs, and all three schools have been suffering downward-spiraling enrollments for the past decade. On the 20th school day this year, Taft's enrollment (47% white students, 40% Hispanic) was 3372 students--753 of which are from outside their attendance boundary.

The nearly done-deal for the Dunning school would allow Taft to house its Academic Center and freshmen students, along with 7th to 9th grade students from other neighborhood schools in Dunning--Bridge, Canty, and Dever. These three feeders used to be in Steinmetz's attendance boundary, but have been moved into the attendance boundary of the new school. A fourth elementary school, Smyser, will be moved out of the Schurz attendance area and into the new school boundary. Though graduates from the Dunning school will have their choice of the area high schools, all of these boundary adjustments will most likely reduce the numbers of students at Steinmetz, Schurz, and Foreman, and also deplete their budgets. (Who wouldn't pick the golden child?)

The Dunning school may also include more Taft-directed benefits: "Taft administrators have been discussing with city and Chicago Park District officials the possibility of a multi-purpose turf field and new tennis courts at the school." This is on top of Taft potentially getting its own new fields. While the mayor announced a long-overdue field update for Steinmetz last year, both Foreman and Schurz have resorted to funding campaigns and raised their voices for years now to try to get the attention of CPS regarding new playing fields. Foreman's is so full of holes it is dangerous to play on.

All four schools will benefit from 1/82nd of $75M to update their science labs to bring them into what the mayor calls "the Tesla era," giving a veneer of equity to at least some school spending.

Still there are basic, glaring inequities. Steinmetz doesn't have an ADA-compliant elevator; consequently, students with mobility issues have 3 options: to be bused to a school that can accommodate them, to be carried up the stairs, or never to leave the first floor. In addition, though CPS records show $200,000 was used to replace the seats and renovate their auditorium in 2014 and 2015, CPS failed to bring it into ADA compliance as well.

Why is CPS spending so much on its current golden child while denying basic accessibility elsewhere? Will Dr. Jackson make good on her promise to "right the sins of the past" by evening the field for schools not deemed a CPS golden child? And when will a school that isn't majority white get to be the golden child?


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