Arguing in favor of state taxpayers shouldering a larger portion of public school costs, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan said recently, “It’s unfair and immoral that our students are being short-changed.” (Tribune, July 17, 2007).
However, when taxpayers in Illinois and other states across the nation already pay more than half of the cost of educating students in Chicago, it seems unfair to ask them to pay even more–especially when total spending in Chicago is already more than $11,000 per pupil ($4.7 billion budget, 414,000 students).
Chicago’s students are not being short-changed financially, but they are being short-changed educationally. Although Duncan points to rising test scores and graduation rates, a 2005 national test (the Urban National Assessment of Education Progress) showed a staggering 40 percent of Chicago’s 8th graders could not even reach the lowest level of reading ability. How can such students cope with high school work?
They can’t, and so they drop out. Of the 33,839 9th graders enrolled in CPS in 2002-03, half dropped out, leaving only 17,065 who graduated from 12th grade last year.
Mayor Daley took responsibility for the Chicago Public Schools 13 years ago. He has made many welcome improvements, but with a 40 percent illiteracy rate at 8th grade and a graduation rate of only 50 percent, those improvements represent mere inches of progress when there are miles to go.
It is immoral to continue with a system that cripples the lives of so many of our children. Instead of pretending that spending more money will improve student achievement, it is time to embrace school vouchers and let Chicago parents make the decisions about where their children’s education money should be spent.
George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute.