This Holiday Season Let's Give Schoolchildren What They Really Need: Strong Public Schools

katelyn_j.jpgA Message From Our Executive Director Katelyn Johnson:

No one wants a “re-gift” for the holidays, or worse, a gift that’s broken, but that’s exactly what Chicago Public Schools is offering parents across Chicago for their children’s education. Chicago Public Schools keeps re-packaging and re-gifting failed reforms that have left our students in tragically under-resourced public schools, under-performing charter schools, and swaths of disenfranchised parents and students whose voices are silenced by those who wish to make a profit off of children’s education. Everyone seems to be an expert on school reform, but few take the time to really talk to students, teachers, and parents about what they really want, and need for public education.

20_crop.jpgFor decades, corporate leaders have been re-gifting school reform to low-income communities, in order to pad their own pockets. These “bad Santa” corporate players don’t listen to what parents want for their children, or what teachers need in order to do their jobs well. Instead, they just do whatever makes the most money, making sure that the learning process is quantified and that the lives and minds of students are cut down to dollar signs and “empty seats” In Chicago, schools are arbitrarily measured and pronounced to be either “succeeding” or “failing”. As a result of this system, schools that are “failing” are closed, teachers at “failing” schools are fired and kids at “failing” schools are starved of resources.

It’s no mistake that public schools located in low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods are always targeted for the most punishment. Areas where families are struggling to stay afloat are prime targets for rich “reformers” who use their economic advantage to exploit the population and experiment with untested reforms. Charter school operators and standardized testing corporations win, while parents, children and teachers lose.

603454_4678538493525_738736654_n_edit.jpgThere is a better way. The parents and teachers who live and work with the children each and every day, know exactly what they need to move public schools forward. The communities that surround the students whether inside or outside of the classroom, have a stake in the education of our youth. The truth is that Chicago’s working families are experts on what is best for their schools and have proposals that are driven by data AND decades of experience. We know what we want for the holidays, because we want the same thing we have been wanting for decades: community control of public schools.

Every neighborhood school needs adequate resources, teachers and support staff to help children succeed. This means schools on the South and West sides need the same improvements that boost academic achievement on the North side: small class sizes, libraries, school nurses, counselors and more. And yes, we know how to finance things as well! Currently $1.7 billion dollars are sitting in Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing accounts. TIF funds are taken out of our property tax bills and then spent at the discretion of our Mayor. The TIF Surplus Ordinance would bring these public dollars back to our schools, parks and communities who gave TIF the money in the first place.

3_crop.jpgWe want an elected, representative school board. We are taxed on public education, but we have no representation. Chicago is the only city in Illinois that doesn’t have an elected school board. The current Chicago Board of Education is appointed by the Mayor, and as a result, they push his agenda to privatize public education. The people of Chicago need a democratic Board of Education that is accountable to the students, parents and teachers it is meant to serve and whose taxes fill the budget.

The holidays are a special time of the year where we set aside a moment to reflect on the things that we value. If you look at Chicago as it is now, you might say that Chicago values privatization and the rich elite, more than they value the majority of working class Chicagoans. You might say our city values schools in upper-income white neighborhoods more than schools in low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods, You might say that the mayor values DePaul and big business, since he takes $92 million away from working-class children’s schools and gives it to a private entity for entertainment. Isn’t it just like the Grinch, to take from poor and working class families and hoard it, or give it to billionaires who don’t need it? Our school board needs to choose to value parents, students, and teachers who live and breathe education, more than they value “education reformers” and the business elite, who have never set foot in a classroom. Our City Council needs to choose to value the people who live in their wards, and who they were elected to represent, more than they value staying the Mayor’s good favor. The bottom line is we need leaders who choose to value equality and the future of our public schools more than they value corporate welfare.

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