A group of black and Latino state lawmakers said today they will push legislation that would freeze efforts by Chicago Public Schools to close dozens of schools beginning later this year, though it’s unclear how much traction such an idea would gain in Springfield.
The news conference comes a week after a district commission found that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett could safely close or overhaul as many as 80 schools this year, despite earlier concerns noting the district had never closed more than a dozen schools in a single year.
The suspension of school closings and consolidations would cover the 2013-2014 school year, according to sponsoring Sen. William Delgado, D-Chicago.
Emanuel is known for his deft lobbying efforts, and lawmakers have long been aware of plans to close a large number of schools. They even signed off on a four-month extension to give CPS more time to finalize a list of targeted schools, a deadline that now looms at the end of the month. In exchange, Emanuel’s office offered its own moratorium, saying after this year it would not close any schools for five years.
But Delgado and others said too many questions have been raised about how to effectively close that many schools, including the disproportion effect on minority communities, the possibility of overcrowding and safety concerns for students who will have to travel further to class.
Delgado, who chairs the Senate education committee, said he plans to call the measure for a vote before the panel next week. It is backed by the Chicago Teachers Union. A similar measure has also been introduced in the House.
“The mayor and his team, it would behoove them to work with us,” said Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago. “Because right now, we have a real soft approach with this.”
CPS CEO Byrd-Bennett said in a statement that the district "can't afford to put off these difficult decisions any longer," saying resources are stretched too thin and could be better used by investing in "quality schools where all students can flourish."