Recently, Chicago made history with the largest amount of school closings ever, sending many in uproar as neighborhood schools that had served children for years were abruptly shut down. At the time, I wrote a column heavily criticizing these closings, citing the many reasons why such a move was at the expense of hundreds of families. Since then, both schools and students have struggled to make the difficult transition, and the scars still very much remain from the divisive decision.
The decision to close the schools largely stemmed from monetary concerns, and while such a reason is unsatisfying to many, at the very least most can at least understand why such a reason would necessitate such action. It is because of this that the recent approval of opening more and more charter schools in Chicago is so puzzling.
The Chicago Public School System has recently approved the opening of seven new charter schools with possibly more on the way. Naturally, many parents are upset by this, as they just recently were forced to part ways with their beloved neighborhood schools, and they absolutely should be.
For those that aren’t familiar, charter schools are independently operated schools that are subject to less regulation and rules as public schools are, but receive less funding, typically relying on private donors. They tend to have smaller class sizes, and employ many more nontraditional methods of schooling. There is nothing inherently wrong with them, though the tenets and structure of charters schools can vary greatly, making some more successful than others.
Justifying closing nearly 50 schools in an effort to save money and then spending millions to open new charter schools seems incredibly contradictory. Noting this, Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended the decision.
“We had some under-enrollment,” the Mayor said. “We also, in other areas of the city, (have) an overcrowding problem.”
It seems obvious that there would be an overcrowding problem, as nearly 50 schools were closed. Furthermore, it’s ridiculous to think that such an issue wouldn’t be foreseen. So why close so many schools to begin with? Why not, at the very least, just close less?
Even more frustrating is the use of millions to build more charter schools when so many public schools are in such dire need. Many Chicago public schools don’t have air conditioning, proper textbooks and many other resources needed for a proper education. These new charter schools, which will no doubt have all of those, will not be able to house all of the students of Chicago. The lucky few will get in through a lottery system, and the rest will be sent to less well off schools.
But public schools don’t have to be “inferior”. Instead of spending millions on charter schools, why not attempt to find out what exactly needs to be fixed in public schools? Why not use those millions to increase the amount of resources in these public schools? While diverting the costs of the future charter schools to the already existing public schools wouldn’t be enough to solve all of their problems, at the very least it might provide a decent air conditioning system. It would be a start.
Some students will benefit from the new charter schools, but many will still be struggling in schools devoid of resources. This is not the fault of these schools as much as it is the politicians who choose to ignore them. If the school district and mayor really want to spend the money they saved closing the schools the negatively impacted so many, then it would be best used to improve the schools that are still desperate for aid. Instead, many will be wondering just why their neighborhood schools were closed in the first place.
Nick Ulferts is a junior English education major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.