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Bill on School Closings Passes House

By Anthonia Akitunde in News on Apr 4, 2009 6:00PM

Rep. Cynthia Soto supported House Bill 363, which passed unanimously yesterday. Courtesy of Illinois General Assembly
A House bill calling for more consideration and concrete standards when dealing with school closings and transformations in Chicago Public Schools passed yesterday with a unanimous 118-0 vote. Championed by Rep. Cynthia Soto and numerous Chicago-area educators, parents and organizations, the Chicago School Facilities bill, better known as House Bill 363, will move on to the State Senate.

The bill proposes the creation of a Special Joint Chicago School Facilities Committee of the Illinois State Legislature, which will establish as state law criteria CPS would have to follow when opening, closing, consolidating or repairing a school. According to Designs for Change, an educational research and reform organization that supported the bill, Chicago is one of the few large cities that does not require a substantive decision-making process when considering school facility issues.

Soto had to remove some of the stronger components of the bill to get it passed, including a one-year moratorium on school closings that would have voided the school board's February 25 decision to close 16 schools. Valencia Rias, a spokeswoman for Designs for Change, said in a February press release they would fight to reintroduce those protections in the Senate.

For some the bill's passing is a huge victory in the on-going battle against Renaissance 2010, an initiative started by Major Daley in 2004 to increase the number of high-quality schools in Chicago by 2010 through a process of turn-arounds, closings and phase outs. Many protest the initiative's tactics, claiming it displaces children without fairly evaluating the school. Some board members openly admitted to not reading reports or attending school hearings during the aforementioned February 25 board meeting. According to Catalyst analysis, Ren 2010 schools receive more resources at a faster pace for capital improvements, with 62 percent of repairs completed or funded versus 45 percent at traditional schools. [PURE, Catalyst Chicago]