An Open Letter to the City of Chicago

In a city where 45 percent of CPS students drop out, every individual decision that prevents or delays a new school from opening is an injustice.
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I've been thinking a lot lately about Dr. Martin Luther King's famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

While it was written in 1963 from the city jail after he was arrested for a non-violent protest against racial segregation - much of it still rings true for those fighting for quality public education for African-American and Latino young people.

King's letter responds to a statement made by white clergymen who agreed that social injustices existed, but cautioned patience. They urged that the battle against racial segregation should be "well timed."

King explained that the actions of those seeking justice are "never well timed in the view of those who have not suffered unduly." He wrote "For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'"

These words haunt me when I think about the thousands of children waiting for their chance to get into high quality public schools. Today, Chicago Public Schools has over 31,000 magnet applications for 3,352 spots. We know more than 12,000 children are on the waiting list for charter schools. Among the 69 schools the Renaissance Schools Fund helped open, there are almost three applications for every seat available. When will the waiting end? How much longer do our kids have to wait to receive a quality education?

Those are the questions I ask when our school district refuses to provide charter schools with facilities, when CPS owns more than 100 buildings that house underutilized and poor-performing schools. When the state funds charter schools at 75 percent of the base level, and prevents equal access to capital dollars. When our own political and community leaders prevent failing schools from being replaced. When special interest groups fight tooth and nail to keep charter schools from opening in neighborhoods of high need because they want to protect their jobs.

I could go on and on about the individual actions that delay or prevent new, high quality schools from opening in our city. Together, they have become an endless stream of inequitable and unfair decisions that undermine our children's opportunity to receive quality education.

While the adults continue to debate and analyze the policies, process and political implications - our children are left waiting for their chance.

Where is the sense of urgency? How much longer can we afford to wait?

I hope the Chicago School Board and our political leadership consider this when faced with the decision to defer or replace failing schools this year because the politics are too hard.

We have some of the smartest, most dedicated leaders on the CPS board, within the ranks of the school district and among our elected officials. But, we have got to face the fact that in a city where 45 percent of CPS students drop out, every individual decision that prevents or delays a new school from opening is an injustice.

As Dr. King's words ring so poignant and so true today, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."

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