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Ahead of first day of school, Emanuel brags about CPS graduation rate

Mayor Rahm Emanuel touts an increase to the Chicago Public Schools
graduation rate on Monday in a speech at South Shore international
College Prep High School. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday struck a triumphant — and defiant — tone about the coming school year in Chicago, touting gains in Chicago Public Schools and a historic school-funding compromise that has partially stabilized the school district’s finances after three years of fiscal drama.

Speaking at South Shore International College Prep High School the day before the start of the new school year, Emanuel touted the latest CPS graduation numbers — which showed increases in every demographic group — and to pledge a school year unmarred by midyear budget cuts.

“We’re going to make sure we’re going to have a full school year and full school day,” Emanuel said. “We’re going to make sure it gets done, because the state is now is actually living up to its responsibility.”

It was less than a month ago that the district sent out layoff notices, as the state Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner seemed poised to continue indefinitely a stalemate over the budget that threatened to delay the start of school at districts across the state.

In the end, CPS received a windfall in the compromise legislation, which sent more money to poor school districts across the state, as well as $220 million in state funding to pay down pension debt.

The legislation also would allow the CPS board, all appointed by Emanuel, to approve an increase of up to 50 percent for tax that funds the district’s pension fund. The tax increase could raise up to $125 million toward an estimated $269 million budget shortfall this year, a fiscal hole Emanuel has pledged to fill with unspecified new city revenue.

Emanuel also rattled off CPS students’ gains in test scores and what he said was the nation’s largest International Baccalaureate and Junior Reserve Officer Training programs.

“These are statistics, I would hope the state of Illinois would actually see the success of what’s happening in Chicago, and, rather than run it down, hold it up. Be proud of it,” Emanuel said. “These are your kids, too. These are your teachers, too. These are your taxpayers, too.”