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State lawmakers push bill to stop Chicago school closings

Parents, teachers and supporters of a state bill to postpone school closings in Chicago gathered in Springfield on Feb. 28 for Public Schools Action Tuesday for the State Senate Education Committee Hearing.

Illinois State Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) first sponsored the legislation in the House, which was then sponsored in the State Senate by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago).

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 22: Jackson Potter of the C...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Senate Education Committee addressed the moratorium bill on school closings, turnarounds and phase-outs. The moratorium period would require CPS to create policy that identifies and helps improve the schools where students score a 75 or below on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.

The bill would also require CPS to create and establish a transparent process with regards to the way it handles school closings, openings, consolidations, turnarounds, phase-outs, boundary changes and other related school facility decisions.

There was no final vote at the hearing. However, CPS did not have enough votes to “kill the bill” and the committee could take up the bill again as soon as next week.

Martinez said the moratorium “is about our children; it’s about quality education for children in all communities, that is what this is about.”

Senators questioned Adam Anderson, the CPS portfolio officer, about what CPS has done and what CPS invested in struggling schools kept on academic probation. Anderson said he could not produce any specifics.

Jackie Leavy, pro bono advisor to Soto, attended the hearing and acknowledges that they now need to “scramble to follow up, and prepare to try to move Soto’s bill in the State House as well as the ‘companion’ senate version.”

The Chicago Teachers Union delivered a round of applause – not for Brizard or CPS, but for what CTU President Karen Lewis called the “courageous” legislators who filed bills to curb the district’s penchant for closing schools.

“These bills come at a time when teachers, paraprofessionals and school leaders are under tremendous assault by anti-public education and anti-labor forces that have used the law and media to attack our profession, our pensions and our schools,” Lewis said.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) explained at the hearing that unlike public school systems in her colleagues’ districts, the citizens of Chicago do not get to choose their school board.  She explained that the General Assembly granted mayoral control to Chicago’s majors in 1995.

“The General Assembly created the problems, the General Assembly has to help fix them,” she said.

Soto and Martinez both said they took action into their own hands once they saw parents walking into their offices frustrated by the lack of transparency and communication they were given with CPS.

“We saw teachers, parents, students… we saw the community come together and they were saying ‘You know what, you’re not listening to us,’” Martinez said.

The closing and phase-outs of 17 schools, 10 of which are slated to become charter-run turn arounds, caught national attention when MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” brought in Karen Lewis to talk about the Board of Education’s decision.

“This is all about the money. And this is all about the wealthy and the charter schools. I’m not going to let this story go,” said Ed Shultz on his Feb. 22 and 23 programs.

Martinez and Soto released informative videos and media alerts to educate parents, teachers and students on what they can do to help this bill move along. Martinez said, “There needs to be a process that needs to be followed. They need to talk to the community and see how it will affect the children first.”

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