Mayoral candidate Sophia King unveils education plan

King, who represents the 4th Ward on the Chicago City Council, was a chemistry teacher at the Latin School of Chicago and helped found Ariel Community Academy in North Kenwood-Oakland.

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Chicago mayoral candidate Ald. Sophia King (4th) at a news conference outside the Chicago Police Department Central District station on Oct. 20, 2022.

Chicago mayoral candidate Ald. Sophia King (4th) at an October news conference outside the Chicago Police Department’s Central District station.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Invest $100 million to make child care available to — and affordable for — every working parent.

Revive vocational training in under-enrolled high schools like Chicago Vocational, Dunbar, Simeon and Farragut, and upgrade school shops there and across the city to train students to repair computerized vehicles.

Forge partnerships with trade unions and private companies to provide jobs and apprenticeships — with elementary school “feeder” programs to prevent students from becoming “disconnected” before they even get to high school.

Lure suburban and out-of-state teachers to Chicago by offering them interest-free home loans, selling them vacant city lots for $1 and using city bonds to build and rehabilitate teacher housing.

Turn Chicago into the “Silicon Valley of the Midwest” by creating a “tech talent alliance” to prepare students for science, technology, engineering and math jobs that account for two-thirds of the U.S. workforce.

Mayoral challenger Sophia King has a grand plan to breathe new life into a Chicago Public Schools system that has been hemorrhaging students — with more than 82,000 students lost in the last decade. It builds on the plan she has already announced to deliver Chicago from violent crime.

“If you don’t have safety and good schools, people are not gonna stay in Chicago. Nor are they going to move to Chicago,” the 4th Ward alderperson told the Sun-Times Thursday.

One of nine mayoral candidates, King is uniquely qualified to talk about education. She is a former high school chemistry teacher at the elite and costly Latin School of Chicago who helped found Ariel Community Academy in her home community of North Kenwood-Oakland.

To reverse the enrollment decline and lure Black middle-class families back to Chicago, King wants to increase selective-enrollment options at CPS and add what she calls a “strong neighborhood component.”

“I have both Kenwood High School and Jones in my ward. Jones is selective-enrollment. Kenwood is a neighborhood school. But Kenwood has … a seventh- and eighth-grade selective component that feeds into the high school. They’ve got a good mix of academically performing kids. They fill the rest of the seats with all of the neighborhood kids. And they still have a great balance of vibrancy and resources. So we know that model works. We need to increase that model,” King said.

“Everybody wants to get into Jones downtown. We have to open up Jones to a neighborhood component. ... I would open up neighborhood components for North Side Prep, for Whitney Young, for all of those great selective-enrollment schools … [to] an array of everyday kids.”

The selective-enrollment expansion King envisions would not necessarily be academic only. She has an idea of a sports-based, selective-enrollment school with a student body of “all of the highly athletic kids.”

That may not sit too well with high school football, basketball and soccer coaches whose schools could be drained of their best athletes. But you get the idea. She’s thinking big.

Grand plans cost money. King’s education plan is no exception.

She said she believes she could easily bankroll the $100 million child care investment and other parts of the plan by scouring the $9.5 billion CPS budget and the city’s $16.4 billion spending plan.

She would forge union partnerships and ask corporations to donate their money and expertise to the public schools because they stand to benefit from that contribution.

She noted Johnson Controls is having trouble filling “certificate” jobs paying up to $80,000 a year because it can’t find enough candidates with training in heating, cooling and HVAC systems.

King would also use tax increment financing, city capital bonds, federal Perkins grants and federal opportunity zones that are “much like enterprise zones of the past.”

“We’ve got them spread all over the South and West side, and we’re one of the only cities that hasn’t taken advantage of it. It allows investors to invest in an area for 10 years, then take it out tax free. Do you know how many people want to do that in a short period of time? We could get billions of dollars of investment,” King said.

“I would do that to grow the neighborhoods. Incentivize our teachers and our first responders to live in those neighborhoods by giving them interest-free loans and empty lots or money to rehab or down payment incentives to grow those neighborhoods. Then I would make those TIF areas and use the increment to pay for the schools,” she added.

“It is not rocket science.”

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