As CPS prepares to close a record number of schools, the fate of students and communities is in question.
March 24: ACT Charter
The School Board recommends renewing the charter for the Academy of Communications and Technology, a month after threatening to shut it down because of low test scores. A statistician hired by ACT showed that, despite its low scores, the charter was performing better than other West Garfield Park schools. ACT students and supporters turned out to lobby for the school in February. ACT serves 6th- through 12th-graders.
April 21: NCLB
The 2004-05 school year will be the worst year yet for elementary schoolchildren trying to transfer out of failing schools. An estimated 190,000 students will be eligible to transfer to better-performing schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but only 500 seats will be available—one seat for every 380 students. No open seats are available in better-performing high schools. A lottery to decide who can transfer will be held in June.
April 22: Gifted slots
CPS announces plans to add 300 more 1st- and 2nd-grade slots for gifted children at 12 elementary schools: Andersen, Cook, Deneen, Curtis, Gale, Henderson, Fairfield, Nixon, Oglesby, Spencer, Ninos Heroes and Parker. The move is aimed at keeping high-achieving students in neighborhood schools. CPS also will offer 500 new slots for fifth-year seniors through its Virtual High School program, which allows students to take courses over the Internet.
Texas: Sin taxes
Republican Gov. Rick Perry is facing opposition from his own party over his plan to increase sin taxes to pay for education, according to the April 24 Houston Chronicle. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst both oppose the idea, and the GOP-controlled Legislature isn't jumping on board with Perry. The governor wants to cut property taxes for more affluent homeowners while increasing cigarette taxes, imposing an admission tax on topless bars and expanding video gambling to racetracks.
California: College prep
A bill now pending in the Legislature would require all high school students to take a college-prep curriculum starting in 2010, according to the April 21 Contra Costa Times.
Students would have to take the minimum requirements for admission to colleges in the state university system. "All of our students need the skills once reserved for our college-bound students," says state Schools Chief Jack O'Connell. In order to pay for the more rigorous coursework, schools would be given more flexibility in how they spend some state funds.
Maryland: Teacher rehires
Schools will no longer be able to rehire retired teachers since lawmakers scrapped a plan aimed at bringing veteran math, science and special education teachers back to struggling schools, according to the April 14 Baltimore Sun. Lawmakers could not agree on reforms to curb misuse of the program. An investigation by the Sun found that many of the rehires were at high-performing schools and some were earning over $100,000 in combined salaries and pension. As many as 1,000 rehired teachers and principals won't return next school year unless they agree to work part time or reduce their pensions.
"We may lose some money, we may not, but it's the right thing to do. I don't want to make money and poison kids."
Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan at an April 20 press conference, discussing the board's plan to put healthier food and beverages in vending machines.
$100 million. In February, Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan warned that CPS would have to cut spending by that amount to help balance its 2005 budget. In April, two days before Duncan and Board President Michael Scott joined other school and civic leaders in Springfield to lobby for more school funding, budget officers made the cuts official. Among them: $20 million in administrative costs, which represents about a 10 percent cut in non-school spending and the elimination of over 200 positions; $60 million from local school budgets, by eliminating positions due to a projected decline in student enrollment; and $20 million from grant-funded programs. Meanwhile, at schools on probation, at least $60 million will be shifted to pay for reading coaches, full-day kindergarten and smaller classes in primary grades.
SPRINGFIELD—The Illinois legislature has approved a bill designed to increase the number of teachers in high-need schools by recruiting parents and teacher aides.
Under a new program called Grow Our Own Teachers, universities would work with school districts, community groups and colleges, and teacher unions to help people already involved with schools become teachers while they remain in their current jobs. The bill would forgive student loans if the newly minted teachers stay in high-need schools for five years. Schools' eligibility would be determined based on the percentage of uncertified teachers and the rate of teacher turnover.
State Sen. Iris Y. Martinez, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored the measure, says it would curb high teacher turnover in needy schools and could add 1,000 new teachers by 2016.
Lawmakers who voted against the bill expressed concerns over costs, at a time when the state is facing a projected $1.7 billion deficit. As written, the bill does not include funding, which would have to be appropriated annually.
Many opponents suggested the state should first pay for its proven teacher-training programs, like the Golden Apple Scholars, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich cut from his budget. Supporters are trying to restore that program's $3.8 million funding.
Blagojevich has until late July to act on the new measure.
Daniel C. Vock