Chicago’s public school system has a new Office of Equity, and here’s an assignment for it: Put a microscope on the 2019 capital spending plan.
There’s good reason to scrutinize the nearly $1 billion the school district will spend next year to rehab schools and build new facilities. Just listen to parents like Judy Rose, and consider the district’s dismal track record of distributing resources equitably across the city.
Rose, at a public meeting last week, wondered why Crane Medical Preparatory High School, the West Side school where her child is a senior, wasn’t slated to get a slice of the budget pie to fix its dilapidated boiler.
“Why can’t [Crane] get adequate heating?” Rose asked.
Good question, one that any parent would ask.
Rose and other parents who criticized the spending plan are rightly suspicious. Schools on the South and West sides were slated to get fewer capital dollars in 2019 than North Side schools, according to a WBEZ report. The district also plans to spend money on new schools and annexes in North Side neighborhoods that aren’t overcrowded, WBEZ found.
Whether it’s textbooks or roof repairs, parents and activists have complained for decades that Chicago Public Schools spend disproportionately more money to keep schools in wealthier, whiter areas of the city in tip-top shape, while neglecting schools on the South and West sides that enroll mostly black and Latino children.
Why should our kids be last in line when their school’s roof is leaking, they’ve asked? The only correct answer is, they shouldn’t.
CPS hasn’t yet provided details on how it will spend $355 million of the $989 million in its capital budget. So Crane could still get its boiler fixed in time for another Chicago winter. Meanwhile, schools need far more repairs — $3 billion’s worth, in fact — than CPS can afford.
CEO Janice Jackson, speaking at the City Club recently, vowed that the equity office will eliminate inequality, across the board. Capital spending, for next year and beyond, is a good place to start. Just like every child deserves a good teacher and up-to-date textbooks, he or she needs a school with clean classrooms and a functional boiler.
Eliminating inequality won’t be easy.
But as Jackson said, “Equity is a moral imperative.”