In a peek behind the curtain of an increasingly stark apartheid in public school education across the country, a new study by the Southern Education Center found that 70 percent of students in Illinois who go to school in urban areas live in poverty.
The study found that in 2011, a majority of students in public schools throughout the American South and West were low-income for the first time in at least four decades. In 17 states nationwide, at least half of all public school students came from low-income families, up from just four in 2000.
In Illinois, 37 percent of suburban and 31 percent of rural students came from low income families. The study measured the percentage of children in each state who received free or reduced school lunches, which are only available to students whose families earn below 185 percent of the poverty line, or $23,492 in Illinois.
Meanwhile, in Chicago and around the state those charged with overseeing those students' education continue to turn their attention elsewhere. The state’s biggest charter school operator, the United Neighborhood Organization, remains mired in scandal, with the Securities and Exchange Commission investigating potential securities violations tied to its October 2011 $37 million bond issue.
Those mostly tax-exempt new-money and refunding bonds were issued with help from the State of Illinois and underwritten in part by wealthy asset management firms. For the second time this year, Gov. Quinn has suspended state funding to UNO in response to a scandal.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel continues to show his loyalties lie less the lowest income and most vulnerable students in the city and more with the wealthiest and best-connected. Despite closing 50 public schools this year, firing hundreds of staff and slashed budgets in school after school, he continues to find money for more well-heeled schools and spend millions in tax dollars on questionable sports facilities.
At the same time, he’s setting up public schools to fail—even well-performing ones—by funneling and resources away from CPS schools and towards controversial charter schools.
In fact, the Mayor at this very moment is making his feelings known on the subject of how to best educate low income students by attending a “National Summit on Education Reform” in Boston, hosted by former Republican governor Jeb Bush.
For its part, the National Summit on Education is holding panel discussions on such topics as “Winning the Kitchen Table Conversation: The Art of Communicating Education Reform” and “The Results Are In: The Empirical Evidence Choice in Education Works,” featuring communications specialists and academics committed to the notions that public schools are the problem and not the solution.
But for those children in Illinois and Chicago public schools who need school lunches to get through the day, panel discussions, SEC probes and multi-million dollar sports stadiums aren’t likely helping them face the educational apartheid they find themselves a part of.
And, judging from the study, their situation is getting worse.