It is no secret that quality building conditions support quality education. Buildings that are safe, clean, and comfortable, as well as accommodating space for class size, enrichment programming, and programming for students with diverse learning needs, are important to student success, but at times are not available to many Chicago Public Schools students. Much of the building condition issues can be blamed on budget cuts, the misalignment of priorities, but more overarching is the lack of educational planning, or the lack of creating and implementing a facilities plan to stabilize facilities in the system with an educational vision to provide quality educational programming in all buildings.
Recent educational controversies show how the district has not implemented an educational vision that has supported financial and educational ingenuity. The debate around the growth of Charter schools is a major one. In the last few years I have witnessed critical building needs in local neighborhood schools be unaddressed while renovations at other types of schools proceed despite a dwindling capital budget in the district. Matter of fact, I have written that after the mass school closures of 2013 a number of Charters were approved including their capital and lease costs despite the months prior where there was the message of “budget constraints and right sizing the district”. Currently there is the Southwest Side of the City struggling to understand new charter proposals under the financial strain of the district, while the needs of neighborhood schools being unmet. A more prevalent example is the current Hunger strike of theDyett High School community members whose story is one of Charter school proliferation while the neighborhood high school lost enrollment and resources. The past facility decisions lacked the critical analysis that the district should have been thinking through:
– What are the current facility needs of our schools?
– What curriculum needs be addressed that our buildings need to accommodate?
– Is the average class size in a community being considered, including the space needed for our young people with learning disabilities/diverse learners?
– And are we utilizing any underutilized space to support wrap around services for students and their communities?
In 2013 the hope was that many of these thoughts would be the framework for the mandated 10 Year Master Facility Plan, but it was not entirely considered. While the plan has addressed the needed transparency and updated facility assessments for each CPS school, the plan has not addressed things like embedding community needs in the educational planning of communities to avoid the disruption of some closures and school openings that take away from current community school capacity. The current plan has not been explicit about including any Charter school expansion, and it has not analyzed community growth and needs through more rich data that is available. This information can tell the story of vacant schools potential re-purposing, plans to address capital needs in the district for a more wholistic educational vision, and collaborate more with community on openings of schools.
This fall and winter there is an opportunity for changes to be made to the current 10 Year Master Facility Plan, and the Chicago Educational Facilities Task force yet again will be collecting data and hearing from stakeholders around individual issues around facilities and overarching changes to how school planning should be initiated in this city. Despite the avenue of the task force provides through its community meetings, community stakeholders should share directly with the district needed changes on how CPS plans for school buildings. Additionally next Thursday the City of Chicago City Council meeting will be considering a resolution being introduced by Ald. Sawyer of the 6th Ward to establish a moratorium on charter school expansion for the 2015-2016 school year, and until a comprehensive study of long term facility and school programming needs is completed with significant public input, and CPS’ financial balance sheet demonstrates long term stability. Please review the following fact sheets to learn more about how to be involved in the issues around facilities and reform and stay tune to Blocks Together’s work around Facility Reform on our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information through our newsletter.
Facilities Fact Sheet
Charter School Moratorium Fact Sheet