One year after the Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 "underutilized" public schools, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) says the district has not delivered on various promises to invest in the designated "welcoming schools" that took in displaced students.
“Shuttering our schools was touted as a hard and difficult choice by the mayor and the board, but this was the easy, draconian choice,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement. “Parents, teachers, and the public demanded resources and supports for these education communities. Sadly, by making promises that remain unfulfilled, these schools and the students they serve have been dealt yet another blow — from failed policy to broken promises.”
During the school-closing process, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials said welcoming schools would get a library, upgraded computer and science labs, and iPads for students in 3rd through 8th grades, among other facility and capital improvements. The district says it has spent approximately $155 million on various capital investments at welcoming schools.
But in its new report, “Twelve Months Later: The Impact of School Closings in Chicago,” CTU blasted CPS for making "hollow" promises to the receiving schools.
New libraries were brought to four of the 49 receiving schools — George Leland Elementary, John T. McCutcheon Elementary, John Harvard Elementary School of Excellence and Perkins Bass Elementary — and others have been revamped. However, only 38 percent of the receiving schools have librarians, according to the report. By comparison, 55 percent of elementary schools districtwide have librarians.
Frederic Chopin Elementary and Charles W. Earle Elementary are at least two receiving schools that reportedly do not have librarians. At these schools, the library is used for special education classes, according to the CTU.
Receiving schools did see their computer labs upgraded, but only one-fifth of them have technology teachers, the report notes. Mary E. Courtenay Elementary Language Arts Center had its science lab upgraded, but the school does not have a science teacher. At Robert Nathaniel Dett Elementary, the science lab is being used as a fourth grade classroom.
The district also provided $10 million for new iPads, but the CTU points out that the computers did not come with professional development supports.
"Additional funding for under resourced schools did not materialize, and the bevy of pronouncements rang hollow when it came to implementation and making sure that schools had the staffing and resources they needed to make the best of new investments," the report reads.
"School closings have done nothing to improve the education of CPS students, nor have they saved money, but the same policies that led to massive closures continue to be implemented."
For its report, CTU researchers reviewed CPS materials and interviewed teachers from seven of the designated receiving schools that accepted students impacted by the school closings including Chopin; Earle; Courtenay; Dett; Nicholson Technology Academy; James Otis Elementary and South Shore Fine Arts Academy.
In a statement, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennet said the CTU's report "deliberately mischaracterizes the facts about the district's investments in welcoming schools."
"CPS' own analysis shows that students in welcoming schools are seeing positive gains in attendance, classroom performance, and on-track rates for graduation, in addition to fewer instances of misconduct," she said. "These results reaffirm the district's commitment to investing so heavily in the transition process, from making needed facility improvements to equipping welcoming schools with additional social and emotional supports to put students on the path to success."
In a fact sheet provided by CPS spokesman Joel Hood, the district notes that receiving schools have the funds necessary to bring on librarians and technology teachers. Whether those resources were used to hire such positions was up to principals. Under CPS' new student-based budgeting system, principals receive funding to spend on positions at their own discretion based on the number of students in their school.
"CTU continues to look back to the old quota model where the type of staff in each school is dictated by someone outside the school," Hood wrote. "The [student-based budgeting] model means that principals make choices about where to direct their resources."
Overall, CTU estimates that CPS has spent at least $285 million on costs associated with the school closings, not accounting for "CPS Central Office staff time and resources devoted to this process, with the exception of the Office of Strategy Management whose entire budget is included in this total."
CTU's report noted that the district in 2013 and 2014 allocated a total of $83.5 million in transition funding for the school closings. But just 10 percent, or $9.3 million, of the transition budget was provided directly to schools to manage their transitions.
A good chunk of the $83.5 million was used for "the web of supports made necessary to manage the chaos of the largest school closures the district, or any school district, has ever undergone," the report states. More than $30 million of the transition funding was spent on logistics and moving expenses and another $16 million went toward the district's Safe Passage program, meant to keep students safe as they travel to and from the welcoming schools.
CPS, however, said CTU's $9.3 million figure is only taking into consideration the funding budgeted for schools. The district said it spent $21 million on direct student supports, an additional $10.4 million on safety and security and another $1.5 million on a book fair for students.
On a per-pupil basis, CTU asserts that the transition funds provided directly to receiving schools "pale in comparison to what charter schools received last year as start-up funding. Expanding charters received $2,770 per pupil in start-up funds, whereas direct transition supports for students affected by school closures was ten times less, just $230 per pupil."
CPS, however, noted that it "uses the same formula to provide start-up costs for all schools, whether they are neighborhood or charter schools. The dollars CTU references includes start-up funds for the new Crane Medical School and the Back of the Yards, as well as expansion costs for eight neighborhood elementary schools."
Meanwhile, CTU's report showed welcoming schools were more likely than other district schools to have had staff vacancies at some point during this school year, particularly special education and paraprofessional positions.
In response, Hood said the district is continuing its efforts to fill vacant positions at welcoming schools. He also explained that additional teachers were assigned to the receiving schools temporarily to provide instructional support.
CTU maintains that the 50 school closings have not improved students' education. Rather, the closings have "disrupted students, families, and communities by creating unnecessary stress for people who already have to face incredible hardships."
"These students, in many cases, have been pulled out what they called home and forced into unwelcoming environments with false promises of better resources and facilities," the report argues.