Equitable Funding, Community Engagement, and Desegregation of Chicago Public Schools as an Alternative to Institutionalized Racism and Mass School Closings
Kimberly M. Harmon
In June 2013, in spite of repeated organized protests by parents, educators, and students, 49 Chicago Public Schools were closed en mass, the largest number ever to be closed at one time in United States history and displacing 11,729 students. According to Chicago Public Schools CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, the closings were necessary due to budgetary constraints and the underutilization and underperformance of under-resourced schools. They posited that the re-location and consolidation of the misplaced students to smaller, better resourced schools would increase overall student achievement and enhance their well-being. The financial, educational, and community problems connected to the mass school closings illustrate that equitable funding, community engagement, and desegregation are better alternatives to institutionalized racism and mass school closings in the Chicago Public School system.
Background of Chicago Public School Funding, School Segregation,
- Chicago Public Schools exist in a highly polarized, segregated system.
- Approximately 50% of African-American students (71, 500) and one-third of Latino students (58,700) attend schools where 90% of the population qualifies for free lunch, which is predicated by $30,000 per year or less income for a family of four.
- Higher poverty rates within a school’s demographics predicate lower academic performance (Chicago Teachers Union, 2012).
- Despite having the fifth largest economy in the United States, Illinois’ regressive educational funding, based on local property taxes, places the state in the bottom three for fairness in educational funding (Baker, Sciarra, Farrie, 2010).
- Parental involvement in often inhibited by language barriers, transportation difficulties, scheduling challenges, and lack of intentional, collaborative, respectful communication from Chicago Public Schools. Communication is often retroactive and hierarchical (Chicago Teachers Union, 2012).
- Increased applied funding for education and supplemental programming can be achieved through re-allocating Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to impoverished communities.
- Progressive capital gains taxation of the top 5% of Illinois income earners would garner $367 million for Chicago Public Schools (US Census Bureau, 2010)
- Comprehensive education, which includes the arts, sciences, mathematics, technology, physical activity, language arts, new languages, history, and the encouragement of higher-order thinking, is facilitated by equitable distribution of educational funds.
- Equitable funding and improved academic opportunities encourage school integration and support a healthier social and developmental environment.
- Egalitarian community engagement and considerate communication between parents and Chicago Public Schools provides supportive and encouraging academic environments for students and fosters successful learning and teaching environments. Studies conducted by both the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR) and Designs for Change indicate family and community connections are integral to school improvement (Moore, 2005).
All students, regardless of neighborhood and economic status, should have accessible, high- resourced quality education and an engaged, collaborative academic environment. In order for community service and educational partnership programs like Project SYNCERE to continue to provide quality, supplemental, in-school and afterschool educational programming, equitable funding must be made available to schools which are comprised of minority and underserved student populations. The collaborative relationship between funding, quality comprehensive academic programming and community engagement will encourage socially and academically healthy students.
Project SYNCERE utilizes their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) project-based curriculum and community partnerships to bolster and encourage academic and career successes for underserved, minority and girl students, who may otherwise miss these academic and developmental opportunities due to the inadequacies within the Chicago Public Schools. Project SYNCERE, which has served over 4,000 students since its 2009 inception, also understands the importance of parental and community engagement, and they encourage parental figures to learn alongside their students via technology workshops and roundtable discussions. This combination of academic, student, parental, and community engagement has allowed Project SYNCERE to achieve a 100% graduation rate for all of their high school seniors and to have 90% of their graduating seniors enroll in 4 year universities pursuing STEM related degrees (Project SYNCERE, 2013). Their program is a strong example of the benefits and advantages of encouraging empowerment through education and community partnerships.
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