Crime was also a central issue in school closings in Chicago, so much so that officials this year created “Safe Passages,” a program to help students navigate gang-infested territories as they travel farther to new schools. Last year, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close about 50 elementary schools and programs, a move that Mayor Rahm Emanuel said would improve student performance and help lower a $1 billion budget deficit. The move was accompanied by an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union to extend the school day—which Emanuel said was among the nation’s shortest—and a full day of kindergarten.
But now it’s the city’s turn to give back, Norine Gutekanst, a staff member of the Chicago Teachers Union, told The Root. A union leader for three years, she worked in the system for 26 years as a primary-grade-level bilingual teacher. She said the CTU is expecting hundreds of members to join them on Monday when they plan to present their holiday wish lists to Mayor Emanuel and Gov. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.
“The list will request fully funded schools and supported families. We are also asking for fair taxes and minimum wage salaries for the families of our students,” she said. “We also want a moratorium on school closings and charter school expansion,” among other things.
Jihad Seifullah, a coordinator with the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, echoes Gutekanst’s sentiments. More than 20 schools closed in the city last year, he said.
“We were told that the schools needed to be closed in order to save money,” he said, “but they still started the school year out with a lack of resources, lack of teachers and support staff. Some schools don’t have nurses on certain days and libraries are shuttered. The Day of Action in Philadelphia and the state Pennsylvania is designed to reclaim the promise of public education. We’re demanding a fair funding formula from the state.”
The American Federation of Teachers this week launched a radio, online and print campaign in media markets across the country highlighting the day.
“Those closest to the classroom—teachers, parents and students—know that austerity, test-fixation and privatization aren’t working for our children or our schools,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a news release. “That’s why on Dec. 9 we are banding together to chart a new course for public education. We are calling out what doesn’t work, and we are fighting for solutions that do work: early childhood education, project-based learning, wraparound services, teacher autonomy and professional development, parent voice, fair funding formulas and more.”
Lynette Holloway is a contributing editor at The Root. The Chicago-based writer is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.