Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday dismissed criticism aimed at his hand-picked school board’s decision to approve seven new charter schools after it shuttered 47 neighborhood schools last year, saying they’re two separate issues.
The mayor made his first public comments on the matter since the Chicago Board of Education vote last week on charter school expansion months after the district cut $168 million from individual school budgets. Asked how he can justify millions of dollars in start-up costs and ongoing operational spending at new charters when Chicago Public Schools are being forced to make do with less, the mayor said it’s not “a zero-sum game.”
“That’s not how this city in the past has looked at it, and in the future, and this is in areas primarily, not exclusively, where there’s overcrowding, which we have also a challenge,” said Emanuel, before bringing up his frequent argument that charter schools are about giving parents more choices.
Approving new charter schools after closing dozens of neighborhood schools isn’t contradictory, Emanuel argued, because the decisions addressed two different issues. Many of the closed schools, which were mostly on the city’s South and West Sides, had too few students, the mayor said. At the same time, CPS is aiming to grow charter schools in areas where there aren’t enough classrooms, Emanuel said.
“We had some under-enrollment,” he said. “We also, in other areas of the city, (have) an overcrowding problem.”
Emanuel’s move to close 47 public schools before this school year remains unpopular in parts of the city, and parents groups and the Chicago Teachers Union continue to loudly complain about the impact that cuts in resources are having on the quality of education.
Three of the seven new charter schools will be located in communities with overcrowded schools, according to the district. Before the vote, the school district had said that neighborhoods with overcrowded schools would be target areas for new charters this year.
Emanuel addressed the school issue at an event on the Southwest Side to call on Chicago families who qualify for the earned income tax credit to take advantage of free services to help them apply for it.