The long-running fight to reopen Dyett High School in Washington Park continued to gain national and city attention this week, with more than 100 participating in a rally at City Hall on Thursday morning — on the 18th day of protesters’ hunger strike — and a demonstration that broke up a public meeting Wednesday night.
The meeting, attended by about 500, was supposed to identify ways the city could cut costs and raise money, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel crafts a city budget to be presented on Sept. 22.
But an hour in, protesters who support a plan to reopen Dyett as a neighborhood school focused on leadership and green technology took to the stage. The Sun-Times reports a chaotic scene: “They huddled within inches around Emanuel. They screamed. They pointed their fingers in his face.”
Emanuel was escorted out by police, and the meeting never resumed. It was announced the mayor would meet with Dyett protesters separately — as he did for about a half hour on Monday night after the first budget meeting — but his staff told the Sun-Times the mayor couldn’t physically get back on stage.
The Tribune reports that the first protester to jump on stage was Jawanza Malone, the executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. Malone said he hadn’t planned to interrupt the meeting, but frustration built up when the mayor wouldn’t answer questions about his plans for Dyett.
“Twelve people have been on a hunger strike for 17 days, three of them have been hospitalized in the process, and these people are coming closer and closer to death to get a school. That’s why I went on that stage,” Malone told the Tribune.
Two hunger strikers traveled to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday — on the dime of the American Federation of Teachers — to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his team. Jitu Brown, one of the hunger strikers, told the Sun-Times after the meeting that while no commitments were made, “They were empathetic and said they are thinking about what they can do.” Sources tell the Sun-Times that Duncan now plans to meet with Emanuel “to try to end the two-week brouhaha.”
A final city budget meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. today at Wright College. The Sun-Times reports that the budget is expected to contain a record $500 million property tax hike, primarily for police and fire pension payments but also $50 million for school construction costs.
2. Mayor budgets some money for child care … In another budget move, Emanuel says the city will kick in $9 million to help families that no longer qualify for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), due to new, tougher eligibility requirements imposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. The new rules locked out an estimated 90 percent of families statewide who would have previously qualified for aid, a cut advocates have called devastating.
“Ninety percent means you don’t believe in daycare, you don’t believe in early childhood,” the mayor said in announcing the city’s financial support, according to a Chicago Tribune story. “And I don’t believe that’s [Rauner’s] policy. I believe somebody in the system has this upside down, and they need to be straightened out.”
The mayor’s office estimates the $9 million will cover programs running for more than half of the estimated 9,000 children affected in Chicago. For those families, the city funds will replace state money that allowed the children to get full-day child care — rather than just the half-day paid for by federal money.
Advocates focused on the remaining half, who will continue in half-day programs. The Bright Futures Coalition, which is pushing for full-day childcare and preschool, said in a statement: “Instead of minor funding amounts heralded by big press conferences, the mayor should commit to an initial investment of $800 million — the sum required to provide subsidized child care for all Chicagoans, while paying a living wage to child care workers.”
3. Disparate racial impact of teacher layoffs … Black educators were slightly more impacted by the most recent round of layoffs at CPS than other racial groups, according to an analysis of district records obtained by the Better Government Association. Twenty-nine percent of the 479 job cuts involved African-American teachers; districtwide 24 percent of teachers are black.
The Chicago Teachers Union has two pending federal lawsuits — recently granted class-action status — against the district for discrimination against black teachers during layoffs in 2011 and 2012 for budgetary reasons or school turnarounds.
In the 2011 case, 40 percent of the laid-off teachers were black; in 2012, more than half were black. The story notes that the number of black teachers in CPS has “dropped precipitously” over the past 15 years — from 40 percent in 2000 to less than a quarter today.
4. Charter battles continue …. Meanwhile the fight over a proposal to open a new Noble campus in Brighton Park continued Wednesday night with hundreds of people attending a public forum at Daley College. The fight over Noble is the most contentious of all the charter school proposals currently up for consideration in the city. Earlier this summer, the charter network backtracked on proposals to move an existing campus and open two new campuses on the North Side, following protests in that part of the city that included elected officials.
Audience members also commented on another proposal to open the STARS Project Engineering Academy, a high school in Little Village, but that got less attention.
Following the proposal withdrawal by Noble and a half dozen other organizations, just five groups now have charter proposals before CPS. In addition to the Noble and STARS proposals, the KIPP network wants to open or expand three elementary campuses in the Woodlawn, Humboldt Park and Austin neighborhoods, while two newcomers to the Chicago charter scene, New Life Academy and Perseid, want to open campuses on the South Side.
Two more public hearings are set to take place next week for those remaining proposals. CPS will hold one last meeting about all the charter proposals on Sept. 30 before the Board of Education takes a final vote in October.
5. Music found to boost language skills … The Hechinger Report notes that the tiniest amount of musical instrument instruction can improve teenagers’ language skills. That’s according to a small study out of Northwestern University of 40 Chicago high school students that found as little as two hours of band class a week improved how adolescents’ brains process sound — and develop non-musical verbal skills.
“Although learning to play music does not teach skills that seem directly relevant to most careers, the results suggest that music may engender what educators refer to as ‘learning to learn,’” wrote the lead author of the study, published in July.
The study “intentionally tracked students from low-income neighborhoods,” comparing music students against similarly low-income students who didn’t take the band classes “but instead enrolled in a Junior ROTC fitness program, Hechinger reported. The fitness students demonstrated fewer improvements in auditory processing — a key to verbal processing — than the music students did.”
The lack of music and arts programming in schools is one of the major complaints heard from parents, and often one of the first things to go during budget cuts. A study by the group Ingenuity, which calls for more arts programming across CPS schools, found that 500 CPS teachers were credentialed music instructors in the 2013-2014 school year.