Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have thought he bought labor peace when he agreed to a fat increase in teacher pay to settle a strike last year. Instead the Chicago Teachers Union is throwing massive resistance against his plan to close 54 under-used public schools.
The closings are part of the city’s attempt to address a budget gap projected to be $1 billion next year thanks to years of fiscal mismanagement. Annual pension payments for Chicago teachers will rise to $593.3 million from $218.6 million by 2016, and the city has to finance that 16% teacher pay raise over four years. Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says closing the 54 schools that are operating at less than 69% capacity will save some $43 million in operating costs next year and $560 million in capital costs over 10 years.
The real racial offense is leaving another generation of black children to languish in some of the nation’s worst schools, with a high school graduation rate near 60%. Chicago’s black population dropped by 181,000 between 2000 and 2010, and much of that decline is on the South and West sides. The Chicago Public School system now has only about 400,000 students despite a capacity for 500,000.
Ms. Lewis’s real fear is that closing those schools will expedite student migration to non-union charter schools. There are currently 119 charters operating in the city and serving some 40,000 Chicago students. Last year the charter waiting list was more than 19,000, one of the longest in the country.
In Chicago, two-thirds of charter schools perform better on state assessment tests and at charter high schools three-quarters of graduates go to college. A recent poll by the Joyce Foundation and Chicago Tribune found that about two-thirds of Chicagoans support new charters opening in neighborhoods where kids are on the waiting list and 67.9% say it should be easier for charters to expand.
Charters also save the city money. State law says charters may get between 75% and 125% of per pupil spending in the district. But in practice most get an average of 78% what Chicago spends per pupil on traditional public schools, according to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.
The CTU’s position paper on school closings, their disproportionate effect on black students, and charter schools is here.
I continue to wonder where the CTU proposes that Chicago will get the money it needs to follow the CTU’s prescriptions for Chicago schools.