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Blue Decay: Chicago Schools Implode

Facing a $1 billion budget deficit and years of declining enrollment in its public education system, Chicago has announced plans to close 11 percent of its schools, or 54 in all. It’s one of the largest school closures to take place in a major American city.

These changes have been a long time in coming. Enrollment in the city’s district-run schools has declined by 14 percent over the past eight years; meanwhile, charter school enrollment has grown by 350 percent in the same period.

Numerous groups are lining up to oppose the closures, most notably the Chicago Teachers Union. CNN reports:

“This city cannot destroy that many schools at one time, and we contend that no school should be closed in the city of Chicago. These actions will not only put our students’ safety and academic careers at risk but also further destabilize our neighborhoods,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

“We do not have a utilization crisis. What we have is a credibility crisis. CPS continues to peddle half-truths, lies and misinformation in order to justify its campaign to wipe out our schools and carry out this corporate-driven school-reform nonsense,” she said.

There are legitimate concerns about the closures. For instance, they may overburden the remaining schools, and, as usual, schools in minority communities may be hit disproportionately hard.

However, it ought to be clear by now that the alternative to these closures is equally unpalatable. The present system has been failing children and their families for years—and at great cost. There’s just not enough money in the coffers anymore to subsidize costly failure. Try as they might, teachers’ unions can’t circumvent these financial realities, and the number of Democratic legislators willing to help them try is shrinking.

Though these closures are unprecedented in scope, Chicago is not alone in dealing with this problem: Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Detroit, and Kansas City have closed hundreds of schools in recent years.

Watching the blue model decompose is not a pretty sight. But closing our eyes to it and carrying on as before isn’t an option.

[Image of school lockers courtesy of]

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