No more school closings, charter school expansion, mayoral challengers say

SHARE No more school closings, charter school expansion, mayoral challengers say

Lori Lightfoot. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Now that a five-year ban on school closings has expired, Chicago Public Schools shouldn’t think of closing any more schools or expanding any privately-managed charter schools until its leaders can stabilize its finances and plummeting student enrollment, mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who left the Chicago Police Board that Mayor Rahm Emanuel put her on to mount a campaign against him, said the city’s existing neighborhood schools need attention and investment first.

“I don’t think we can talk about opening more charters until we have a real comprehensive plan for uplifting neighborhood CPS schools,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times in her campaign office.

“My concern is frankly that resources that should have gone to neighborhood schools were actually diverted to charters and magnet schools. I want to have strong neighborhoods schools that are accessible, that are not selective enrollment in any permutation of that, so that kids can walk to their neighborhood schools with their neighborhood friends and build a sense of community.”

Emanuel was elected in 2011 on the strength of the black vote and re-elected after African-American voters forgave him for closing a record 50 public schools. In exchange for more time for the mass closings which affected primarily African-American students, he promised through his second of five CEOs not to close any more schools for five years –– a term that has just expired.

Meanwhile, CPS has added charters and shut down a handful of schools. All five schools currently slated for closing — the top-rated National Teachers Academy elementary school and all four high schools in Englewood — serve predominantly African-American students. Public outcry erupted in the wake of the announcements and NTA parents filed a lawsuit, still pending, to stop CPS’ plan.

CPS officials have said affected students will have better opportunities in the expanded South Loop elementary and in a brand new Englewood high school, both opening in the fall of 2019.

They just presented a record capital budget plan of nearly $1 billion that adds more spaces for students throughout the city, including another new high school for the Near West Side.

“There’s a disconnect there. It doesn’t make any sense, not only to me it doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t make sense to the average person out there,” Lightfoot said. “So I don’t think we can talk about closing schools until we provide some real substantive answers to parents and other stakeholders.”

Emanuel campaign spokeswoman Caron Brookens declined to comment.

Former CPS principal Troy LaRaviere and former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy also pledged to stop closings and charter expansion if elected.

“We have to go beyond having a moratorium on closings and think about how we’re going to ensure that every neighborhood has within it a vibrant, exceptional neighborhood school with the same kind of curriculum, access to the same kind of curriculum and staffing Rahm’s kids have access to at the Lab School,” said LaRaviere, current head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Paul Vallas, a former CPS CEO, also has hammered away at the issue of school closings since the day he launched his campaign for mayor, well aware that Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video will make it difficult for him to get a third chance with black voters.

Vallas has noted that student enrollment “grew by 30,000” — to 434,000 — under his watch. That’s 62,618 students more than the 371,382 CPS students today.

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