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Chicago Sun-Times

Claudius Ellington, who was in third grade in 2013, joined a march in May 2013 protesting the mass closings of Chicago public schools.

Andrew A. Nelles

After closing 50 schools in 2013, did Chicago keep its promises?

Chicago closed 50 schools 10 years ago — we investigated how the city failed to live up to the promises it made then.

Here’s what a WBEZ and Chicago Sun-Times investigation found.

In 2013, the Chicago Public Schools permanently closed 50 underenrolled and low-performing schools in the largest mass closing in the nation’s history.

The closings affected 13,646 children from the shuttered elementary schools. As many as 17,000 more also were impacted because their schools were slated to take in students from the closed schools.

The Sun-Times and WBEZ examined promises made by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials that the students would be better off academically, that their new schools would be transformed and that the shuttered schools would be reborn as community assets.

We also explored alternatives to mass closings. Chicago today faces an enrollment decline far worse than 10 years ago when the 50 schools were shuttered.

Here’s what we discovered:

  • The kids: City officials promised that students would be more successful and reach their potential in new schools.

  • The buildings: Officials promised that all the empty school buildings would get a second life that would benefit the community.

  • The communities: Officials said redeveloping the closed school buildings could boost economic development and expand opportunities in neighborhoods around the city.

    • Our finding: The areas around closed schools saw steeper population drops in the years after the 2013 closings than other areas, a Sun-Times and WBEZ analysis found. Majority-Black census tracts that included closed schools lost 9% of their population between 2013 and 2018. Black census tracts with schools that did not close saw a 3% decline.

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