Mary Dixon: 10 years ago. This month, Chicago shuttered 50 public schools in the largest closing in the nation's history. At the time, city and school district leader's promised the school's that welcomed displaced students would be flush with resources and significantly better than the closed schools. But over time, most of these so called welcoming schools have seen dramatic drops in enrollment. They're largely in the same situation as the school's that closed a decade ago. WBEZ's Sarah Karp is here to tell us about what happened to the welcoming schools. This is part of a larger joint investigation with the Chicago Sun Times. Good morning, Sarah.
Sarah Karp: Good morning.
Mary Dixon: So can you tell us about the promise is city leaders made 10 years ago around these welcoming schools?
Sarah Karp: Sure sow former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett said that there was a set of schools that were under enrolled under utilized and poor performing. And they said that by closing these schools, they could shift the money that they would have spent on the schools to other schools and those other schools would be better. And they promised to put $155 million worth of improvements in the schools that the money was being shifted to. Here's what Barbara Byrd Bennett had to say at the time.
Barbara Byrd Bennett: Just think if our children had access to 21st century libraries, just think if they had labs where they could do science experiments and just think if they had an art room or a kiln or play or a dance studio. This is what our children want. This is what our children need. This is what other children have.
Mary Dixon: So Bennett is saying here that they plan to provide all these resources that students didn't have before. Did these welcoming schools actually get the kilns in the dance studios?
Sarah Karp: Well, I do not know of any Chicago public schools that have kilns or dance studios, there might be one eye I could be wrong. But 18 of these elementary schools did get specialties like fine arts or international baccalaureate programs or they became STEM schools. They also created some new libraries, some new science labs and they also sent a lot of technology out to the schools. Principal Aaron Rucker who was a principle back in 2013 of a school name Ryder and is still the principal they're now said that these schools really needed these extra resources and it was really a big deal to get all the technology. Here he is remembering what it was like back then.
Aaron Rucker: It was important to the board as well as to me to give our kids like every chance, every opportunity and every resource that we could. I would say during the meetings, I feel like we're leveling the playing field right now for our kids.
Sarah Karp: So like Rucker, many of the welcoming school principals were really grateful for the extra stuff.
Mary Dixon: So we've seen that CPS was able to fulfill some of the promises for more at these welcoming schools. But what happened next?
Sarah Karp: So almost immediately the school system put in place something called student based budgeting. This was a new way of funding schools to tie the amount of money each school got very tightly to enrolment. Now there'd always been some, you know, some loose connection to enrolment, but this was having the money literally follow the students. And it was part of a national movement to make schools more like marketplaces with the idea that they would get better if they were competing for students.
Mary Dixon: And how did this work out in the welcoming schools?
Sarah Karp: So many of their welcoming schools lost enrollment and they've also suffered big budget cuts. This is really interesting because you have to remember that the welcoming schools were poised to do better, you know, they were given all these extra resources. I talked to a principal named Tracey Stelly, she was the principal of a school named Lavizzo back in 2013 and she's still there, and she got an International Baccalaureate out of the school closings, which is something that she really, really wanted. And her school just like Ruckers was able to gain the highest rating. So they did well, but still they have had to struggle with enrollment and budget cuts. Here is Stelly talking about what that's meant for her.
Tracey Stelly: So having to be really, really creative in programming and be savvy as a school leader and to get all the bang for the bucks, I am continuously having to figure out that in order to keep my teachers no matter how the enrollment fluctuates.
Mary Dixon: What lessons have we learned, 10 years after these schools were closed by CPS, that follow through to today?
Sarah Karp: So one of the big lessons is that you can't really change schools without changing communities. So CPS poured a lot of resources into the schools, but the communities were still really struggling and nothing was done to address that. This is UIC Professor David Stovall talking about what this meant.
David Stovall: These communities historically have had issues with access to quality and affordable housing, access to living wage, employment, and access to health care, right? So all of these things just kind of come in this kind of cacophony of that results in more of the same for - not even more of the same, but an intensification of what was already there.
Sarah Karp: And then came student based budgeting. And that meant that as the areas lost population, the system was literally starving the schools Stovall says. So 10 years later, the school district is again faced with under enrolled schools. And the question is, what should the school district do about it? Our final stories in the series 50 Closed Schools will look at what the city and school district could do moving forward. That will be out later this week,
Mary Dixon: WBEZ education reporter Sarah Karp. Thanks Sarah.
Sarah Karp: Thank you
Mary Dixon: Reporter's Nader Issa and Lauren Fitzpatrick of the Sun Times contributed to this story along with Alden Loury from WBEZ. To read more, you can go to WBEZ.org/50schools. This is WBEZ.
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