Community leaders from Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood are celebrating after the state legislature included $50 million in the state capital budget to help build a high school to serve their neighborhood and the South Loop.
The grant does not guarantee that a high school will be built. Recent Chicago public high schools have cost between $75 and $130 million. And building in the area could be extra costly given that the school district does not own land for the school and the real estate prices are high near downtown.
Chicago Public Schools officials did not respond to questions about the money for the high school. The school district has not yet released next year’s budget for building and repairing facilities. It is holding virtual community meetings on capital plans starting Tuesday afternoon.
But the $50 million gives renewed hope to the Chinatown leaders and residents who have been fighting for a high school for decades.
“It is really wonderful,” said David Wu, executive director of the Pui Tak Center, a community organization in Chinatown. Wu thanked state Rep. Theresa Mah, who represents the Chinatown area, for pushing the project.
Chinatown and South Loop residents have gotten close to getting a high school before. Most recently, in 2018, Chicago Public Schools proposed transforming an elementary school, called National Teachers Academy, into a high school. But that proposal was fiercely fought by the parents of NTA students. When a judge ruled the closing of the elementary school would violate state laws, the school district backed off.
At the time, school district officials said they were committed to creating a high school to serve students in the South Loop and Chinatown, as well as north Bronzeville.
Residents have long argued that the current high schools where their children are assigned are not adequate because they are far away and are low performing. Chinatown residents also complain they lack quality bilingual services for Mandarin and Cantonese speakers.
Their vision is for an open enrollment high school that has top-notch services for immigrants.
But the call for a new high school is controversial because most of the city’s high schools are severely under-enrolled, including the ones where students from Chinatown and the South Loop are assigned. Those schools — Tilden, Phillips and Kelly — all also serve low-income black and Latinx students.
Kelly High School is the only one with a sizable Asian population. Over the past five years, it has lost 500 students and almost $6 million.