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Chicago Schools Hope to See “Race To The Top” Funds

Illinois is in line to get $42.8 million of  “Race To The Top” grant money from the U.S. Department of Education, and members of Chicago’s local organizations say they hope a sizeable portion goes to Chicago Public Schools.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $4.35 billion for “Race To The Top,” a program earmarked by the Obama administration. Approximately $4 billion was used to fund federal grants designed to encourage and reward states that are committed to education innovation and reform.

Illinois was included in the list of seven states receiving a share of the grant money in phase three of the program.

Roberto Clemente High School
Roberto Clemente High School, Chicago. Image via Wikipedia

Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Illinois’s largest school system with more than 400,000 students in 675 schools, kicked off the 2011-2012 year facing a $712 million deficit, which resulted in rescinding a scheduled 4 percent pay-raise for teachers.

“We have to get extra resources into (Chicago Public Schools’) buildings, so our children can have a chance,” said Wanda Hopkins, 55, assistant director and individualized education program specialist for Parents United for a Responsible Education. Hopkins has three children currently enrolled in Chicago Public Schools.

“There needs to be more professional development for teachers so that every teacher in every classroom can make sure our kids are getting a proper education,” she said. “Some of our children are being lost.”

Half of the “Race To The Top” funds, roughly $21 million, will go directly to Illinois local school districts that agree to accelerate education reform and will be distributed throughout the 2013-2014 school year, according to a statement from the Governor’s office in December.

The other half will be used to fund educational projects and programs, such as the Shared Learning Infrastructure, a multi-state collaborative to develop a next-generation technology system.

The statement indicated that a focus for Illinois education reform will be improving test scores, increasing graduation rates and producing graduates who are well prepared for the 21st century job market.

The average graduation rate for Chicago Public Schools in 2010 was 55.8 percent, reported Catalyst Chicago. In an October 2011 presentation to the Chicago Public Schools’ Board of Education, Oliver Sicat, chief portfolio officer, said nearly 46 percent of Chicago Public Schools are on probation. He said roughly 123,000 students are attending classes at underperforming schools.

A 2005 study performed by the Alliance for Excellent Education showed a graduation rate of about 74 percent for all students in Illinois.

“CPS has not been able to make large gains in math and reading scores,” said Bernard Clay, 60, executive director for Introspect Youth Services and chairman of the education committee for the Westside Chicago chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

A lifelong Chicagoan, Clay founded Introspect Youth Services, a non-profit community-based youth development agency providing educational and employment services to Chicago’s Westside residents.

“If the (“Race To The Top”) funding is used right it could do a lot of good,” he said. “Every child deserves a quality education, and we need to try to find extra resources to advance upon what they don’t get in Chicago Public Schools.”

In a January press statement from the Illinois State Board of Education, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he was impressed with the states’ progress, saying the twelve states have acted with “courage and commitment” in taking on the “Race To The Top” education reform.


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