PI Original Angela Caputo Monday August 31st, 2009, 12:01pm

A Blow To Transparent School Reform In Chicago

When uproar over the questionable closing
of more than a dozen public schools hit a fever pitch earlier this
year, State Rep. Cynthia Soto (D) attempted to put the brakes on the
Chicago school district's plans. Regular readers may remember that her
proposal to impose a one...

When uproar over the questionable closing of more than a dozen public schools hit a fever pitch earlier this year, State Rep. Cynthia Soto (D) attempted to put the brakes on the Chicago school district's plans. Regular readers may remember that her proposal to impose a one-year moratorium on school closures (HB 363) was challenged by CPS at every turn.  Ultimately, the moratorium proposal was dropped and the bill was limited to the creation of a quasi-independent Chicago School Facilities Task Force, which Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) described as follows:

There will be an independent panel made up of legislators and representatives of community groups which have a track record in  school facilities issues. This panel will design a fair, effective process for making facilities decisions which will then be enacted into law.

The bill passed both chambers in May and represented a significant step in the right direction, considering that CPS had been shuttering neighborhood schools while giving no criteria for the closure process. But apparently Mayor Daley refused to relinquish even minimal control over the school closings. And unfortunately, Gov. Pat Quinn has obliged.

Last week, Quinn filed an amendatory veto to HB 363 allowing Daley to appoint two additional people to the 14-person panel. Quinn explained that his changes seek "to ensure the most fruitful discussion possible." However, school reform advocate Don Moore had a different take, as Newstips' Curtis Black reports:

Quinn's changes "fundamentally undermine the likelihood that any meaningful changes will result from this process," said Don Moore of Designs for Change. "It's the policies of the Mayor and his board of education that are at the root of the inequities" which the task force is to address, he said.

In another setback, Quinn's amendment also gives the task force an additional five months -- until March 30, 2010 -- to pull together final recommendations. That buys the city more time to reorganize schools with minimal transparency (while at the same time expanding its charter school network).

After being blindsided by the changes, Soto is vowing to override Quinn's amendments. Talking to Black, the Chicago lawmaker expressed her ongoing frustration:

"It isn't fair. It isn't fair to the taxpayers of the city of Chicago. It isn't fair to the families whose children are being shifted around where they could be at risk. It isn't fair to the principals and the teachers who work so hard. It isn't fair to the parents who volunteer, who give so much of their time to make the schools better. They deserve a voice."

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