We had a lively lunch at our office last week with a group of sharp young people as part of the Chicago Community Trust’s “On the Table” series.
This year’s series of citywide conversations will become the basis of a “Memo to the Mayor” from the Trust, aimed at giving the new administration a grassroots take on tackling our city’s stark inequalities.
As we chatted with our guests — the 90 minutes felt more like 19 — they kept circling back to the same point: Chicago’s neighborhood public schools, at least the ones in lower-income communities, are in dire straits. The students who attend them are getting a raw deal on their education.
Some of the young people are attending, or were graduates of, selective high schools, the sought-after crown jewels of CPS. They spoke about the opportunities and benefits they had enjoyed — new computers, lots of extracurricular activities, the chance to go on free out-of-town trips — while their friends in neighborhood schools went without basics such as up-to-date textbooks.
We also discussed how:
- Many neighborhood high schools continue to lose students to charter schools, which get taxpayer dollars and also raise funds from private donors.
- Not enough students are participating in International Baccalaureate programs that have been launched in neighborhood high schools
- Outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel was wise to create the Star Scholarship program, which enables CPS graduates with a “B” average or better to get free tuition and books at City Colleges. But that program won’t be as effective if neighborhood high schools keep struggling and don’t prepare students to qualify.
None of these observations will necessarily surprise anyone familiar with longstanding problems in CPS. But everything they told us is worth the attention of incoming Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has spoken about the high-quality education she received in public schools.
She has vowed to make sure all Chicago schoolchildren have the same opportunities she did.
The young people we shared lunch with will be watching to see if she keeps that promise. So will we.
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