Chicago school facilities bill now appears dead

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A bill that would require CPS to develop a 10-year “Educational Facility
Master Plan” and a 5-year “Capital Improvement Plan” now appears dead
in Springfield.
The bill stems from the work of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task
Force, created after school closings and turnarounds caused a
stir among communities and residents who wanted to have a say before CPS
made major decisions about school facilities.

A bill that would require CPS to develop a 10-year “Educational Facility Master Plan” and a 5-year “Capital Improvement Plan” now appears dead in Springfield.

The bill stems from the work of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, created after school closings and turnarounds caused a stir among communities and residents who wanted to have a say before CPS made major decisions about school facilities.

Senate Bill 620 would give them that say, putting changes in facilities use on hold until public hearings are conducted and a plan for construction and building use is adopted by the School Board.

If CPS balked at the legislation’s requirements, under SB 620 it would receive no facilities funding from the state in the future.

Although the bill passed the Senate in April by a healthy 41-12 vote, it is barely clinging to life in the House of Representatives. It was assigned, not to the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee—which typically rules on bills amending the School Code—but to the House Executive Committee.

More critical for SB 620’s prospects is the fact that the bill is not posted for the committee’s hearings on Wednesday – and Friday is the deadline for Senate bills to be voted up or down in House committees. It seems SB 620 will get no hearing by the deadline—and is dead.

Rallies in support of the bill are scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday.

One of a bipartisan list of co-sponsors, Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) said he also believes there is a background agenda at work now.

“I would be very surprised” if the bill is given a hearing, Eddy
said. The issue is now under control of House Speaker Michael Madigan,
who effectively controls the Executive Committee. Eddy said he believes
Madigan may be responding to Chicago Mayor-Elect Rahm Emmanuel, who
would not wish to have his education plans limited by state statute in
this way.

“Who knows, maybe [Emanuel] will do this on his own—open the process
up to public disclosure and develop a true capital facilities plan for
Chicago schools,” Eddy speculated, rhetorically.

Advocates who worked to advance the bill denounced the move to scuttle it.

 “SB 620 is incredibly popular in our neighborhoods,” says Joanna Brown of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. “In one day, 600 parents in Logan Square signed a petition supporting this bill because they work hard to make their schools better and they want a fair process.”

 “With the failure of so many top-down initiatives, we think CPS and the state legislators would be eager to make it right,” says Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization. “They’re public schools, and they need public engagement. The top-down approach clearly has not worked. There needs to be accountability for bad policy.”

Rene Heybach of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and a member of the Facilities Task Force called the bill “a good government piece of legislation” and added that “hundreds of millions of dollars over time have made their way from the capital budget to CPS without a lot of transparency or accountability.”

“It is completely fair to ask CPS for transparency and thoughtful planning that bears relationship to how children learn,” Heybach says. “For SB 620 not to be voted upon suggests to me other factors not in the best interests of our children are at play.”

Gema Gaete of the Whittier Parents Committee, which staged a sit-in regarding overcrowded conditions at the school, said Whittier’s situation “is symptomatic of what’s happening all over CPS. SB 620 is the beginning of CPS making decisions based on students’ actual needs.”

Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education called the bill “a model of community involvement and fiscal responsibility. They seem to be saying that the ‘reset button’ for Chicago schools is a reset to the same old cronyism and oiling the squeaky wheel rather than the good management we need, especially when money is so tight.”

Advocates have scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Whittier School’s “La Casita,” 1900 W. 23rd and a “Rally for SB 620” for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Thompson Center at Randolph and Dearborn.

Meanwhile, they are urging supporters of the bill to call members of the House Executive Committee and encourage them to seek to have SB 620 added to the committee’s agenda for its hearings at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

SB 620 was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) and is sponsored now in the House by Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago), along with co-sponsors.

 Download a fact sheet on SB620 [PDF]