School funding cuts result in vicious cycle of forced gentrification
February 2, 2018

Photo courtesy Baxter
Chicago Public High School students are eager to learn, but school funding cuts are forcing some of their families to leave the area in search of better educational opportunities for them.

Gubernarorial candidate Chris Kennedy in early January caused a major ruckus when he accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of leading a “strategic gentrification plan” to force minorities out of Chicago in various ways, such as closing hospitals and mental health facilities, cutting funding for police, and reducing funding for Chicago Public Schools.

This issue’s front page lead story not only bolsters Kennedy’s argument concerning the CPS, but shows that Governor Bruce Rauner bears responsibility as well.

When CPS created a budget for the 2016-2017 school year, it assumed the State would provide $125 million. Governor Rauner was all too happy to veto a bill that would have done that, forcing the CPS to take steps such as freezing schools discretionary funding to fill the gap.

The freeze had a greater impact on schools in majority-Black, majority-Hispanic, and majority-low income neighborhoods. In response to backlash from those communities, the CPS unfroze some of the funds. That still left 2016-2017 budget shortfalls at several high schools in this area that predominantly serve minority and/or low-income areas—Benito Juarez, Back of the Yards, Richards, Tilden, Bronzeville, Dyett, and Wells High Schools.

Now we are in the 2017-2018 school year, and our investigation shows that all of these schools have been allotted less discretionary funding than in the previous year—with the exception of Dyett, which the mayor and CPS turned into an arts academy over the objections of parents in the community. While we have no objection to Dyett receiving adequate funding, it is no surprise that, being a pet project of the powers that be, Dyett will actually receive more in discretionary funds.

Meanwhile, Byron Sigcho of Pilsen Alliance was able to pinpoint what really is going on. If schools lose funding, some parents decide to leave the area to find better-funded schools, and population declines. If population declines in an area, fewer children go to the local schools, and so the CPS provides less funding for less populated schools.

And the vicious cycle spirals downward as schools decline and people leave.

Is that the plan? Is the City following the roadmap created by anti-government political activist Grover Norquist, who advocates cutting government to the point at which people think it is useless, and then the powers that be “can drown it in the bathtub,” as Norquist’s far right-wing assertion suggested?

Of course, all those schools would have more funds if the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program, which drains tax money from the schools and other municipal services and puts it into a pot of discretionary funds controlled by the mayor (with the rubber-stamp approval of the City Council Finance Committee) were not being used for other mayoral pet projects. Local schools lost between $34,388 and $982,109, which are drops in the bucket compared to the $55 million in TIF funds the City provided that ended up helping Navy Pier and the $5.5 million the City Council Finance Committee voted on recently to help the Presence Health hospital system move its headquarters to 200 S. Wacker Dr.

Apparently entertainment and cushy offices for a private concern are more important than public schools.

That’s bad enough, but worse is that City officials will not even talk about it. Reporter Igor Studenkov tried for two months to have someone from the CPS or the principals of the schools in question comment on his investigation—to no avail.

Funny how City officials were not reluctant to talk to the media immediately to defend the mayor when Kennedy made his comments, however.

Equally disappointing as City officials not talking is the Chicago Teachers Union declining comment as well. What is its management afraid of? Although it did issue a statement that noted that the CPS’s love of well-resourced magnet schools and charter schools has “contributed to the destabilization of Chicago’s Black and Latinx neighborhoods [and] driven families from Chicago.”

Sigcho decries bad decisions on the City and State levels that have left CPS in debt, and the lack of transparency concerning the mayor-appointed school board that Sigcho says has “mismanaged public schools for way too long.”

Speaking of mismanagement, an example is Emanuel’s steady walk to Wall Street, authorizing a $389 million loan from Wall Street to the CPS, (some have called this a “toxic loan”), adding to the system’s previous $950 million of debt.

We cannot disagree with charges of bad management. Local community groups such as the Pilsen Alliance and the Lugenia Burns Hope Center have called for an elected school board independent of the mayor, and we agree with that idea, too.

Adequately funded public schools, oversight of them by independent elected officials, an end to minority migration from the city, and public officials who are accessible to the media will only make Chicago stronger. Chicago and Illinois have a long way to go to achieve these goals, but local activists, the media, and fortunately even some candidates understand that we need to begin that journey now.