From: Matt Rosenberg
The power politics of teachers’ unions, weak administrations, and a lack of political leadership have left Chicago public schools with a glaring and intractable problem: increasingly empty and failing schools.
Of the CPS’s 478 “traditional” or non-charter and non-contract autonomous schools, a third of them, 150, are less than half full, according to CPS. The 20 emptiest CPS schools are only 5-25% full – most with depressing school results, which we detail below.
That the CPS and Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) advocate keeping half-empty schools open is why parents need more options. This is why taxpayers should demand real choice of school in the form of vouchers.
Take Manley High School. This is a glaring example of how far CPS and CTU are willing to go. School capacity? 1,296 students. The number of students now? Just 64 – 4.9% of places available. Douglas High School? Capacity 888. Seats occupied? 44. Uplift High School has a capacity of 720 places but only 55, or 7.6%, are occupied. The list continues.
As the student population continues to fall in CPS, the number of under-enrolled schools has remained stubbornly high. Overall, 55% of the 478 traditional schools in the district fall below 70% of the CPS. registration threshold for effective use. The data can be found in the district spreadsheet titled “2021 – 2022 Use of space and registration.” (See breakdown in appendix.)
Yet, despite declining enrollment and failing academic performance, CPS isn’t going to change anytime soon.
An all-chosen Chicago School Board by 2027 means all or most CPS supervisors will owe their election to the brawn political action committee of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). And CTU is all about keeping schools – even the most empty – open for the long term. Even if they like close them sometimes as a collective bargaining ploy.
The union not only successfully lobbied the state legislature last year to establish a moratorium on CPS school closures through 2025, it even protested the closure of a CPS school with no students.
Despite a long-standing issue with hundreds of schools undercapacity, many dramatically, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, when elected in 2019, said she opposite closures under-capacity schools. She then stood aside when state lawmakers resurrected last year until early 2025 a moratorium on school closures. A previous five-year ban on school closings in Chicago was agreed to by his predecessor Rahm Emanuel after 50 school closings he forced in 2013 sparked a political storm.
Sober observers and trade analysts understand what is wrong with this image, even if the union and its political protectorate do not.
Blake Yocom, credit analyst at Standard & Poor’s in Chicago says Crain’s Chicago Business this about school closings: “enrollment and the district’s capital footprint have been ‘so inconsistent’ for so long that it’s an obvious spending control they could implement given the drop in their registration… The CPS is an outlier for “such drastic differences in registration with their capital footprint”. ‘”
But the fiery racial rhetoric goes hand in hand with the CTU’s growing political power. And this often manifests itself when school closures are proposed. Facility consolidations can even be called “a hate crimeby a protesting CTU member, and later get sidelined.
And now, despite CPS’s own data showing that more than half of assessed schools are below the district’s 70% benchmark capacity, there is growing interest in how to financially support under-enrolled schools in the Covid relief fund.
This is an exactly backwards approach and not in the best interests of CPS students, especially in underutilized schools, where performance is often particularly low.
Empty schools, failed results
Wirepoints looked at the 20 emptiest CPS schools, by percentage, and found that students’ reading and math skills in 2019 were remarkably low.
Most schools had single-digit proficiency percentages. And unfortunately, these schools are not academic outliers.
Across the CPS, the results are horribly bad. Only 27% can read at school level and only 24% are proficient in mathematics.
Worse still, as declining enrollment and academic failure continues, CPA’s current budget process is outpacing reality.
The CPS proposes to build on a 2021-22 budget that has already been artificially increased with approximately $1 billion in federal Covid assistance. chalk beat says the proposed budget for 2022-23 is $9.5 billion, up about 25% from pre-Covid 2019.
The ever-increasing budget in the face of declining enrollment and continuing disastrous school results shows that the best remedy is to give families the means to expanded school choice.
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