Most parents assume that their children are getting an equitable education, regardless of where they attend school or in what district. However, Chicago schools may differ in educational opportunities, depending upon several factors — the most prominent being the percentage of low-income students and the quality of property values within the different districts. With many of the Chicago schools providing education to low-income students, these factors impact the quality of education your children may receive.
Let’s look at Chicago schools General George Patton School District 133. Its low-income students comprise 97 percent of the overall students educated within the district. The state standard per student funding is $8,786. Patton receives $10,144 per student, 15 percent above the standard. Sounds good? It’s not.
Low-income Chicago schools must provide for the special needs of the low-income students, such as extra tutoring programs, remedial programs, preschool, and free lunches. Once the normal costs of special education and transportation are added in, there is little left of the school’s budget for typical needs, let alone educational enhancements. Some of the Patton students cannot even take textbooks home to study, because there are not enough for each student.
Low-income Chicago schools must provide such services to ensure the children living in poor families have the same education advantages as their other children. With no formal education before kindergarten, they need the extra schooling that many times must continue throughout elementary school.
Now let’s compare Patton to Northbrook School District 27 (not in the Chicago schools area). It has a school budget of $20 million per year for 1,310 students — $15,308 per student. It has only 0.6 percent low-income students and a sky-high property tax base from which to draw funds — according to the Northern Multiple Listing Service, the average home in this school district carries more than $2 million in value.
Northbrook spends very little on low-income student services. They can afford well-educated teachers. Students have access to wireless laptops starting in fourth grade. They provide continual teacher professional development and administration support. Student has daily physical education classes, art and music twice a week, and daily interaction with technology — they have over 700 computers and a seven-person technology staff. Their gifted program meets several times a week for children in kindergarten through third grade, and daily for as long as three periods for fourth graders. They provide after school activities, such as the broadcast club, chess club and competitive sports.
The low-income Chicago schools cannot compete with wealthier districts, and the children are not as prepared for college or post-graduate careers. Chicago schools education advocates are concerned with the wide variation in school district per student funding amounts across the state, which ranges from $4,437 to $23,798 per student. They believe it is unfair that poor Chicago schools have to choose between the basic needs of children in poorer families and education enhancements that are demanded by parents in wealthier Chicago schools.
Some of the contributing factors for inequalities in Chicago schools are:
• Chicago schools have to pay teachers more than rural schools, since their cost of living is higher in Chicago; but much less than wealthier schools — many teachers do not have a college major or minor within the subjects they teach (mathematics, for instance), • Most Chicago schools spend more on bilingual education to serve the growing immigrant populations, • Low-income Chicago schools have higher costs for administration and support services to address the students’ attendance, emotional and academic issues, and
• Low-income Chicago schools receive most of their funding from state and federal government grants; whereas, wealthier school districts receive the bulk of their funding locally, most of which is from property taxes.
The funding source also causes difficulties for low-income Chicago schools. State and federal grants come with more strings attached than local funding. They dictate to the Chicago schools how the money is used and cause more administrative costs in dealing with the associated red tape. These Chicago schools are vulnerable to the whims of the politicians, who may create or cancel a program to ensure reelection. The financial status of the state and federal budgets affect low-income Chicago schools annually. Lastly, many grants are tied to specific programs and initiatives, taking away a lot of the choices and flexibility that the wealthier schools enjoy.
So, when choosing a school for your children from the Chicago schools system, determine the percentage of low-income children that make up the school’s student body and research the median property values for the area. Ask the school principal what percentage of their funding is from government grants and what comes from local funding. You will be glad you did — and so will your children!
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Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more on Chicago schools visit http://www.schoolsk-12.com/Illinois/Chicago/index.html