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How School Closings Ruin Communities

Decimating children's education can tear a community apart.

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"Every child in every community deserves a rich and robust education in a safe learning environment that will give them all the tools they need to be successful," Molly Poppe, deputy press secretary for Chicago Public Schools, told The Root in an email statement. "While the district has made steady progress over the last few years, we must continue to make the necessary investments like a full school day, full-day kindergarten, quality early learning programs and the rigorous Common Core curriculum to ensure that every child has access to the 21st-century education they deserve. And by closing underutilized schools, CPS is able to redirect those resources to the higher-performing welcoming schools to provide children the opportunities and programs they need to be successful."

A National Problem

Chicago is not alone in its plight.

William Hite, Philadelphia schools superintendent, earlier this month sounded a Cassandra warning that schools would not open Sept. 9 if the system did not receive at least $50 million by Aug. 16.

The good news is that the system received the money by last Friday's deadline, and the doors will open for 136,000 students. The bad news is that system will be a faded remnant of its former self. An estimated 3,800 employees were laid off, and 28 schools were closed.

"On June 7, The School District of Philadelphia announced that we would begin issuing layoff notices to about 3,800 employees in light of a drastic financial shortfall," Hite said in a prepared statement. "These layoffs affected significant numbers of our school-based staff, including assistant principals, teachers, counselors, recess and lunch aides, secretaries, supportive services assistants and teacher assistants. I was joined on that day by four outstanding principals, all of whom expressed grave concerns over their ability to run a school without these staff."

To be sure, there are no easy answers or solutions to looming deficits, as school administrators have found in Washington, D.C. Last year, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced plans to consolidate 15 schools, 13 at the end of the last school year and two at the end of the upcoming school year.

"We heard from people across the city that have never reached out or offered feedback before," she said in a January news release. "People spoke up at meetings, they sent emails, they called, and we made sure to track everything they said. I've been inspired and encouraged by the thoughtful feedback we heard from parents, advocates, students, school staff and others during this process. My priority is, and will remain, what is best for our students, and I am confident that our final plan will best support our students and their families."

For his part, Davis says he plans to buckle down even more to work with the community on education and lowering the crime rate. Davis, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), and the Congressional Black Caucus held a summit in July to get community input on how to stop Chicago's violence. They are in the process of developing a plan to present to the community, he said.

"We must become better and more effective parents," he said. "We must spend more time in schools dealing with the problem. It takes a community to create a public life we find must desirable. It's all of us working together to create the kind of city that we want to live in and be a part of."