32 Chicago Public Schools Getting $32 Million For New Programs | WBEZ
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32 Chicago Public Schools To Get $32 Million For New Programs

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that $32 million will be spent to infuse 32 schools with a variety of specialty programs, from performing arts to International Baccalaureate to dual language.

He called this the “largest one-time investment in the academic growth of the city of Chicago.” Over six years, the money will be used to add staff, train teachers and buy “learning resources,” according to the school district.

Emanuel said the school district can afford these programs because of additional state funding this year. Emanuel, who is in his last two months as mayor, noted he fought hard to win extra revenue for CPS.

Expanding specialty programs in Chicago Public Schools also will be part of Emanuel’s legacy. Under him, dozens of schools now host new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and International Baccalaureate programs.

One initiative started last year lined up the specialties of elementary schools and high schools in the same neighborhood. On Tuesday, he announced an additional five neighborhoods will have an IB focus and five will have a STEM focus.

“So when a family moves in, they can be on a singular educational program,” Emanuel said.

But this expansion goes beyond STEM and IB. There are six new fine and performing arts programs, four new dual language programs and two new world language schools. Also, two schools will specialize in “personalized learning,” in which students move at their own pace, often using technology, while teachers facilitate the learning.

Chosen for these programs were 32 mostly high performing schools. Seventy-five percent have one of the district’s highest ratings of Level 1 or Level 1-plus. Also, 19 of the 32 schools have majority Latino student populations.

But many of these schools are struggling to hold onto and attract students. All but two of the schools chosen have seen their student populations dwindle in recent years, according to a WBEZ analysis of CPS enrollment data.

The Chicago Teachers Union jumped on the announcement, chiding Emanuel what they called “token” funding. In a press release, they said instead he should have invested in school libraries, bilingual programs, nurses and other clinicians.

Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade touted a new equitable process for awarding these specialty programs. In the past, schools were often given specialties without requesting them and sometimes they didn’t know until the mayor or district leaders announced them.

As a result, some neighborhoods had lots of programs, while others had few, and no one really knew how one was chosen over the other.

Last year, the school district put out reams of information about the schools in each neighborhood and held meetings to gauge what staff, parents and community members wanted. The school district then invited schools to apply for programs if they wanted them.

About 100 schools applied.

McDade said school district officials looked at need, as well as desire, when they chose which schools would receive the programs.

She said the same process will be used next year. And on Tuesday, the school district posted updated data about schools in neighborhoods. Some new elements were added, including how many children attend preschool and how long students are traveling to school.  

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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