How is this Not a National Scandal? 9 of 10 Students Affected by Chicago School Closings are Black
An investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times reveals that 90 percent of students affected by public school closings in Chicago are African American, a rate that doesn’t match up with the city’s racial demographics (only 41.7 percent of the district’s student population is black).
School closings are the latest trend among privatization and charter school advocates who seek to dismantle public education (and teachers unions) to turn a profit. So far they’ve been largely successful because it’s happening on the backs of poor black communities who the national press have all but ignored since their inception (think great migration and white flight).
Of the 129 schools eligible for closure, 117 are have a majority black student body (see this map). The commission tasked with determining how to move forward announced this week that 80 of those schools should be closed or consolidated over a one to two year period starting now. “That’s five times the number Chicago has ever undertaken in a single year,” reports WBEZ.
Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, blasted the commission’s finding in a statement. “Given the history of CPS, there is no way it has the capacity to shut down 13 percent of our entire school district without mass chaos,” said Lewis.
The city initially targeted 330 schools for closing but reduced it to 129 and now 80 amid public protest. CTU referred to this as “a ‘shock them with crisis’ tactic in order to ease outrage when a smaller hit list of schools is finally announced by March 31 as required by law.”
Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, both proponents of school privatization, deny that race is a factor. They say the closings are necessary due to “under utilization” because Chicago’s black population is on the decline so there are fewer students at these majority black schools. This, they say, explains the racial disparity. The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, a group that testified before the Justice Department about school closing discrimination, told the Chicago Sun-Times that “under utilization” is a “manufactured crisis” and accused CPS of over exaggerating the number of students CPS lost.
In an even more bizarre justification, Byrd-Bennet argued that “a disproportionately high rate of our African-American children are in schools that lack the resources necessary to give them an education we can all be proud of.” But it remains unclear how shutting down under-resourced schools will lead to better quality education for underprivileged students.
Dismantling Public Education on the Backs of Black Children
This is an attack on black children and their right to a quality education. And it’s not isolated to Chicago.
On Thursday night, Philadelphia officials voted to close 23 public schools, which account for nearly 10 percent of the city’s school system, a move they say will reduce the city’s budget deficit. But again, findings show that black students are diproportionately affected. According to an analysis of city data by the Notebook, 79 percent of students impacted by the closings are African American, though they make up only 55 percent of the overall student population. Furthermore, three-fourths of the 43 schools initially slated for closure are 80 percent or more African American.
Community groups from cities across the country, including Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Detroit and Newark, have responded by filing civil rights complaints with the federal government, only some of which have been investigated according to the New York Times.
Even if the closings are found to have violated civil rights, an Education Department spokesperson told the Times that it lacks the authority to halt locally mandated school closings and said the the best they can do is take a school districts to court and deny them federal funding. But the federal government has also refused to do that.
From Oct. 21, 2010, to Jan. 1, 2013, the Office of Civil Rights has investigated 27 school closings, finding insufficient evidence of civil rights violations in every case. Currently, the office has 33 open cases involving 29 school districts in 22 states, officials said.
If the mass closing of majority black schools doesn’t qualify as a civil rights violation, I don’t know what does. Or maybe the magnitude of inequality will always be irrelevant. After all, this is completely in line with the Obama administration’s support and encouragement of the school privatization agenda.