Take 5: Housing for teachers, ACLU questions Urban Prep, spending inequity

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Shuttered schools may be turned into housing for teachers. Ward Elementary was part of the 2013 closings.

Photo by Lucio Villa

Shuttered schools may be turned into housing for teachers. Ward Elementary was part of the 2013 closings.

What a novel idea: Take a shuttered school building and turn it into housing for existing and retired teachers. That is one of the requirements for buyers interested in the building that DeDuprey and Von Humboldt schools used to share in Humboldt Park. Buyers also must be willing to put a restaurant in the building, according to a Request for Proposals released by CPS on Friday.

CPS is also looking for buyers for Overton School in Bronzeville and Near North High School in River West. Overton and Marconi were shuttered in the historic closings of 2013. Near North High School was closed 14 years ago and has been used for a variety of programs by the school district.

So far, CPS has only been able to sell two schools closed in 2013. One of them, Peabody, is in the gentrifying Humboldt Park neighborhood. The other is Marconi in West Garfield Park. Both buildings will be turned into mixed-use facilities.

In the past, CPS came under criticism when buildings sat around for a long time and the district did not take aggressive steps to sell them. Now CPS has a community-based process in place to not only get the buildings on the market, but to specify how they should be used. Overton buyers must agree to “recreational, educational, counseling and mentoring programs; career, trade and entrepreneurial business training programs; or housing, retail and manufacturing or technology purposes,” according to the RFP. Whether this process is successful remains to be seen. CPS put up Wadsworth in Woodlawn for sale, but no one bid on it. Now the charter school that is in Wadsworth is looking to leave also, according to the Hyde Park Herald.

2. Special ed at charters … Advocates for children with disabilities want CPS to do a better job of ensuring that charter schools are meeting the needs of children with special needs. The Sun-Times reports that the group Equip for Equality says that charter schools enroll fewer of these students, and that they are more likely to leave or be expelled at charters than at district-run schools, at a rate of 26.2 percent vs. 22.5 percent from CPS schools.

CPS officials say they give charter school principals special training to ensure compliance with special education law. In addition, special education officials at the district are now “part of the team that reviews applications for charter schools,” according to Jack Elsey, who oversees the charter process.

Two schools singled out by Equip for Equality for losing an unusually high number of students with disabilities last school year are Urban Prep and  EPIC. Leaders at Urban Prep — which lost twice as many of its special needs students compared to its overall student body last year — cited general retention issues: “The harsh reality is we serve a highly [mobile] and transient community.”

3. Speaking of Urban Prep … You  may remember that earlier this year, school and city leaders in the District of Columbia announced plans to open an all-boys high school school that would be part of the Urban Prep network. The expansion, part of a broader D.C. initiative targeting black and Latino boys, would be the network’s first school outside of Chicago. But now that plan is facing legal questions from the American Civil Liberties Union and a D.C. council member who say the plan may violate federal protections meant to ensure gender equity, Education Week reports.

The ACLU — which has filed complaints or raised questions about gender-specific initiatives in schools across the country — has been on a “years-long campaign to identify segregated classes, schools, and extracurricular activities that violate Title IX of Education Amendments of 1972 and the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution,” according to Education Week.

Those behind the D.C. initiative say boys of color in the are in educational peril. But Galen L. Sherwin, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, says the city should show how it will balance benefits for girls. “There are very good reasons for that [attention], but minority girls often aren’t included,” Sherwin says. “Resources should be offered to at-need students regardless of their sex.”

4. Spending inequity... Illinois has one of the worst spending gaps in the country when it comes to per-pupil funding. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that, in 23 states, state and local governments spend less per pupil in poor districts than in the richest districts, according to a Sun-Times story. (The newspaper also put together a neat infographic on the subject that’s worth checking out.) Illinois is tied with Virginia for fourth place with a 16.7 percent spending gap between rich and poor districts. The worst is Pennsylvania, which spends 33 percent less per pupil in poor districts compared with students in rich districts.

In states with the biggest gap, the Sun-Times reports, “the finger can be pointed squarely at the funding formula.” This includes, of course, Illinois, where efforts are ongoing to drastically reform the state’s system of funding education. The Chicago Tribune reports that a bipartisan panel of House members have taken up the work started last summer by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill).

The Tribune says the task force is “reflective of one of the foremost emerging issues in Illinois’ new period of divided government, one that’s complicated by partisan and regional divides over how the state should allocate dollars to its public schools.” This is going to be an especially contentious issue as the state faces a roughly $6 billion revenue gap next year.

5. About that budget … Across the state, activists have been sounding the alarms over a series of cuts proposed in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s 2016 budget. Among them: early childhood advocates who work with the developmentally disabled. The Springfield Journal-Register reported last week on the governor’s proposal to restrict early intervention services, including language therapy. Currently, children can receive the benefits if they have at least a 30 percent developmental delay; Rauner is proposing to restrict the program to children with a 50 percent delay, effectively cutting services to about 10,000 children.

Only three other states have such restrictions. The governor’s office has pegged the savings at $23 million, but opponents are livid, the Journal-Register reports, saying the program “saves the state money by reducing the amount of special education services children may need later.”

Amy Zimmerman, who directs the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children, calls it “probably the most cost-effective early childhood program in the state.”