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Civil Rights Issue Saving Public Schools

Written By Julianna Benson on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | 1:06 AM

Civil Rights Issue Saving Public Schools - The fight against public school closings has become the new
civil rights battle in this country — and rightfully so. Faced with a $1 billion budget deficit, Chicago's public school system is the most recent urban district to announce a massive closure of schools. The city intends to shutter 61 elementary school buildings, nearly all of them in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Like other cities, Chicago claims that budget deficits and declining student enrollments have forced it to turn out the lights in these inner city schools.

That's a penny-wise-and-pound-foolish decision that condemns the neighborhoods surrounding these soon-to-be-boarded-up schools to further decline.
Over the next decade, school officials predict that these closings will save the school system $560 million. But first the city will have to spend $233 million to move students from the schools that will be closed into classrooms elsewhere.

Even if the school closings actually produce the projected savings, the damage they will produce to the neighborhoods left without readily accessible public schools will be catastrophic (see HERE).

Who wants to raise children in a community with no neighborhood schools? While poverty and crime have decimated the population of many inner city neighborhoods, shutting down schools in those troubled areas will depopulate them even faster. The result will be a growing expanse of urban wastelands that could well deepen the budget deficits of the cities that are closing public schools.

Politicians and school officials must be challenged to justify their school closing decision beyond the dealmaking of Chicago's City Council. The U.S. Department of Education's civil rights division is investigating complaints that claim the school closing decisions of several urban school districts amount to a civil rights violation (see HERE).

If the school closings don't violate the law, they sure seem to trample upon its spirit. Those who push for massive school closings are taking a meat cleaver approach to deficit reduction — one that treats poor and inner city neighborhoods with the disdain of Jim Crow-era lawmakers. They should be forced to come up with ways to bring school budgets into balance that strengthen these communities.

In recent months, school systems in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Newark have announced plans to close public schools, and in every case blacks and Hispanics will bear the biggest burden of these cost-cutting measures. These decisions signal an indifference to the damage such policy decisions will have on the neighborhoods.

"If we don't make these changes, we haven't lived up to our responsibility as adults to the children of the city of Chicago," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, according to the Associated Press.

That's a pretty shortsighted analysis of a problem that, if not addressed properly, will render large swaths of Chicago's black and Hispanic neighborhoods uninhabitable education wastelands.

DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA Today.

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