Our posting of March 29 (“Hit Again”), about the mistakes being made in the guise of reforming education, struck a nerve with readers. And since then, writers with wider audiences have offered similar commentaries, including DeWayne Wickham writing for Gannett as his words appeared on LSJ.com on April 3, 2013:
“The fight against public school closings has become the new civil rights battle in this country – and rightfully so. Faced with a billion dollar budget deficit, Chicago’s public school system is the most recent urban district to announce a massive closure of schools. The city intends to shutter 61 elementary buildings, nearly all of them in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
“That’s a penny-wise-and-pound-foolish decision that condemns the neighborhoods surrounding these soon-to-be-boarded-up schools to further decline. ‘We have resources that are spread much too thin,’ Todd Babbitz, the chief transformation officer (no kidding that’s his title) of Chicago’s troubled school system, told the Chicago Tribune. Over the next decade, school officials predict that these closings will save the school system $560 million. But first the city will have to spend $233 million to move students into classrooms elsewhere.
“Even if the school closings actually produce savings, the damage they will produce to the neighborhoods left without public schools will be catastrophic. While poverty and crime have decimated the population of many inner city neighborhoods, shutting down schools in those troubled areas will depopulate them even faster. The result will be a growing expanse of urban wastelands that could well deepen the budget deficits of the cities that are closing public schools.
“Politicians and school officials must be challenged to justify their school closing decision beyond the deal making of Chicago’s City Council. The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights division is investigating complaints that claim the decisions of several urban school districts amount to a civil rights violation. If the school closings don’t violate the letter of the law, they sure seem to trample upon its spirit. For example, officials in Chicago and elsewhere should turn these school buildings into hubs for nonprofit organizations and other public services. Why not use the empty space to house police substatations, public health clinics, recreation centers and a mayor’s station?
“School systems in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Newark have announced plans to close public schools, and in every case blacks and Hispanics will bear the biggest burden of these cost-cutting measures. These decisions signal an indifference to the damage such policy decisions will have on the neighborhoods.
“‘If we don’t make these changes, we haven’t lived up to our responsibility as adults to the children of the city of Chicago,’ Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. That’s a pretty shortsighted analysis of a problem that will render large swaths of Chicago’s black and Hispanic neighborhoods uninhabitable education wastelands.”