CPS students with good GPA might get free ride to City Colleges

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Chicago Public School students who graduate from high school with a grade point average of 3.0 or better would be guaranteed free tuition at any one of Chicago’s seven City Colleges under a mayoral plan announced Wednesday.

The offer to waive the $200-per-credit-hour fee for an associate degree — and use it as an incentive for CPS students to keep their grades up — is the latest in a series of steps by Mayor Rahm Emanuel toward his lofty goal of making all CPS students “100 percent college-ready and 100 percent college-bound.”

By strengthening a link between CPS and City Colleges, Emanuel hopes to build a pipeline between the two institutions that benefits both. Through the fund he’s calling the Chicago Star Scholarship, City Colleges will give waivers for tuition, fees and books — the main college out-of-pocket costs — to qualifying CPS grads.

Emanuel said by telephone Monday he believes in a social contract between responsibility and opportunity.

“If you get good grades, I don’t want cost to be a prohibitive factor in going to college,” he said.

Full-time tuition, school fees and books run about $4,400 a year for city residents, according to City Colleges.

The mayor has yet to explain the cost of this initiative — saying only that City Colleges will absorb it through “reforms and efficiencies.”

It is yet another pre-election bone to black voters who helped put Emanuel in office but abandoned him in droves after he closed 50 public schools, most of them in impoverished neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.

The same motivation was behind Emanuel’s controversial hiring preference for CPS graduates that will be applied to Chicago’s first firefighters entrance exam in nearly a decade.

The Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 has threatened to help bankroll a lawsuit challenging the hiring preference that has enraged the rank and file, many of who are second- and third-generation firefighters and would like their own children to have the same chance.

Firefighters children would be hurt by the hiring preference because many of them attend parochial schools.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has denounced the hiring preference as a “meaningless stunt” that will “foster religious and racial divisiveness” and invite legal challenges that could taxpayers millions.” She called the City Colleges announcement “a desperate political move.”

“I’m very suspect of the timing,” ahead of the February mayoral election, Lewis said Tuesday.

“I’m glad he’s in a giving mood and glad he’s interested in funding them,” she said of Emanuel. “Basically, it just sounds like desperation to appeal to people he doesn’t appeal to.”

Lewis’ opposition to the firefighter preference was widely viewed as an attempt by her to expand her political base in preparation for a possible campaign for mayor.

Emanuel said he has been working with City Colleges’ Chancellor Cheryl Hyman and board chairman Paula Wolff of Metropolis Strategies for the last three years on this issue.

“This is the next installment,” he said. “People will make whatever political comments they want. My focus is making sure students have a college education, a career and a ticket to the middle class.

The City Colleges of Chicago are in the midst of a colleges-to-career makeover that got its start under former Mayor Richard M. Daleyto prepare City Colleges students for jobs in growth industries.

Emanuel has kept it rolling with plans to build a new $251 millionMalcolm XCollege to train students for careers in health care and a $42.2 million Transportation, Distribution and Logistics center at Olive Harvey College.

He also persuaded five technology giants to join forces with the Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges to open six-year public high schools that allow students to graduate with an associate’s degree.

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