Federal relief must confront massive inequity and trauma intensified by pandemic, focus efforts on hard-hit Black and Brown school communities, and support immigrant, homeless and special education students.
CHICAGO, March 10, 2021—Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s handpicked Chicago Board of Education is expected to receive roughly $1.8 billion in assistance through the passage in Congress today of the American Recovery Plan. These funds come on the heels of roughly $900 million that Chicago Public Schools received from CARES Act support.
These funds must be invested in CPS’ overwhelmingly Black and Brown students and school communities, and the Chicago Teachers Union is joining parents, students and grassroots community groups to demand that Mayor Lightfoot and CPS leadership invest its federal dollars in addressing critical equity needs for students and their families.
“These funds must address the massive inequities and harm that Black and Brown students and families have suffered as a result of COVID-19 — and to be frank, were suffering long before the pandemic,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “Students and school communities continue to confront massive trauma, which includes children in low-income communities of color who are under a growing threat of hunger and homelessness.”
“These funds provide the ability to address critical needs that the pandemic has intensified, and to remedy decades of indifference and neglect,” Sharkey said. “The mayor and CPS just need the political will to do the right thing in partnership with parents, students and educators.”
The CTU is supporting the broad equity goals of the TLC campaign, led by grassroots groups Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and other members of GEM, the Grassroots Education Movement.
“The sacrifices our students and their families made during the pandemic need to be honored with real improvements to students’ school experiences, and sustained commitments to real equity in their communities,” Sharkey said.
The TLC platform dovetails with equity demands the Union has been advancing for years, which include the imperative for CPS to use funds to address the backlog of compensatory special education services for special needs students, who’ve lost out on thousands of minutes of service over the last year. CPS must also provide more staff and materials, and professional development for bilingual education teachers and staff and increase supports for bilingual education students.
For homeless students, who number roughly 20,000 in Chicago, CPS must invest in additional STLS coordinators and resources.
The push to return to in-person school was driven by widespread concern over the real impact the pandemic has on students’ mental health. For students who have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impact, CPS must make real improvements in physical and mental health care in schools, including a nurse in every school starting in the 2021-22 school year.
CPS must invest in at least 500 additional social workers and counselors starting in 2021-22 to provide mental health recovery needs to students who have experienced trauma, and support the sustainable community school initiative throughout the district for every school with at least 80 percent low-income student population.
The district must onboard hundreds of new parent liaisons to conduct home visits to reach students and families that have been disconnected as a result of the pandemic, and to continue to serve as advocates once schools fully reopen for in-person learning.
When students return to full-time, in-person instruction, they must have the opportunity to experience the true breadth of education through summer job programs for all eligible CPS students; expanding sports and clubs in every district elementary school; ensuring that every school in the district has a library (and a librarian); massively expanding problem-based learning across the district, including professional development for teachers and staff to make it a reality; and ending any non-required standardized assessment.
Since COVID-19 has laid bare the real challenges with Chicago’s school stock, both physical and virtual, the American Recovery Plan provides an opportunity for school buildings to function properly with improved safety protocols. CPS must address the backlog of outstanding HVAC work in at least 160 schools; ensure that every classroom in the city has a functioning window that opens; upgrade learning devices and provide consistent, sufficient Internet access to families in need; and expand and create new learning hubs around the city to provide safe, quiet spaces for students.
“This federal support, which is vital to the growth of our district, must fund the right to recovery for every one of our students and their families,” Sharkey said. “Educators know best what their school communities need, and these funds make addressing those needs possible.”