Who Is In Charge

Obama at Ivy Tech: U.S. must 'be creative' to help students reach college

President Barack Obama urged a focus on training America’s future workforce by investing in younger students and reducing college costs at a speech today in Indianapolis at Ivy Tech Community College, the nation’s largest state community college system.

Obama touted his plan to offer two years of free community college to all students, first proposed in last month’s State of the Union address, as a key part of improving the economy for middle class. Obama’s stop in Indiana is one of a series of recent appearances for the president in Republican-led states like Idaho and Kansas.

“Here in America, it shouldn’t matter how much money your folks make,” Obama said. “You shouldn’t have $100,000 worth of debt when you leave (college), especially if you’re going to go into a profession like teaching.”

He also urged the nation’s state education leaders, from K-12 education to higher education, to work together to provide new, low-cost opportunities for students to earn credentials so they can enter the workforce earlier and earn higher wages.

“We have this very rigid system,” Obama said. “You go through high school, and right away you go to a four-year university. How do we create — from the time you are in ninth grade all the way until the time you’ve got a job — how do we make sure you’re going to get the best skills possible at the lowest cost? We have to be much more creative about these issues.”

Indiana state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the only Democrat serving in statewide office, said she shared Obama’s desire to help “cash strapped” high school graduates and other adults afford college. She said students need to start preparing in high school for their next steps in life, and gain practical experience even before entering college to make sure they take advantage of their time and money.

That was her own story, Ritz said.

“I grew up in a family that had no money to send me to college,” she said. “I worked two to three jobs every summer. The minimum wage doesn’t do what it needs to do to get (today’s kids) through college. We’ve got to find ways to support our kids to ensure they get that training. I consider high school the beginning part of building a resume.”

The president urged colleges to work with high schools, businesses and government leaders to change the system. He thanked Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard for working with him on the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which includes plans to reduce dropout rates and improve low-performing schools.

Obama also stressed the importance of literacy and intervening early with struggling students to make sure more students are eligible for college.

Gov. Mike Pence, who greeted Obama at the Indianapolis International Airport when he arrived, said in a statement that states should take the lead on making college more affordable. He also said high schools need to do a better job getting students ready to be successful after they graduate.

“The best way to increase graduation rates is to make sure that our students are academically prepared for college and that colleges and universities encourage students to graduate on time with the least expense to them and their families,” he said.

Since Republicans control both houses of Congress, Obama’s plan could be in doubt. But Obama, who presented his budget plan to Congress earlier this week, urged Republican leaders not to block his plans simply because they can.

“If Republicans disagree with the way I’m trying to solve these problems, they should put forward their own plans,” Obama said.

Big speeches

Emanuel tries to shore up education legacy in final budget address

PHOTO: Elaine Chen/Chalkbeat
Rahm Emanuel at Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village, moments before he announced this year's $1 billion capital plan.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel choked up twice during his final budget address to Chicago’s City Council Wednesday morning: once when he talked about his wife, Amy Rule, and the other when he read aloud a letter from a John Marshall High School senior who lives on Chicago’s West Side.

The address highlighted millions he wants to spend to expand after-school programming, middle school mentoring, and a summer jobs initiative for Chicago teens. It also signaled loud and clear how Emanuel views his legacy: as the mayor who took the reins when the city faced a $600 million deficit and then righted Chicago’s fiscal ship, while pushing for the expansion of programs that serve public schools and children.

In the speech, he ticked off such accomplishments as expanding kindergarten citywide from a half- to a full-day, extending the city’s school day, increasing the graduation rate to a record 78.2 percent up from 57 percent when he took office in 2011, and paving the path for universal pre-kindergarten, though that initiative is still in the early stages.

“When you step back and look at the arc of what we’ve done in the past seven years, and take a wide lens view, from free pre-K to free community college, from Safe Passage to mentors to more tutors in our neighborhood libraries … at end of day, it is really no different than what Amy and I, or you and your partner, would do for your own children,” he said.

Emanuel, the former congressman and chief of staff for President Barack Obama who announced on the first day of school in September that he won’t be running for re-election, acknowledged that shoring up civic finances isn’t glitzy work — not like, say, plopping a major park in the middle of downtown, as his predecessor Richard J. Daley did by opening Millennium Park in his final years of office.

But, said Emanuel, “one thing I’ve learned in the past 24 years in politics is that they don’t build statues for people who restore fiscal stability.”

Outside of the longer school day and school year, the mayor stressed his work expanding programming for children — particularly teenagers — after school and in summers as an antidote to the city’s troubling violence that did not abate in his term. The new budget lays out $500,000 more funding for his signature Summer Jobs program, bringing projected total spending on that up to $18 million in 2018.

He also set aside $1 million for his wife’s Working on Womanhood mentoring program that currently serves 500 women and girls, $1 million more for the after-school program After School Matters, and more money for free dental services at Chicago Public Schools and trauma-informed therapy programs.

The mayor’s address had barely ended when the Chicago Teachers Union sent an email with the subject line “No victory lap for this failed mayor.” It pointed to blemishes on Emanuel’s education record, from closing 50 schools in 2013 to systemic failings in the city’s special education program — an issue that now has Chicago Public Schools under the watchful eye of a state monitor.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey called on the city’s next mayor to restore money to mental health clinics and social services, fund smaller class sizes, broaden a “sustainable schools” program that partners community agencies with languishing neighborhood schools, and invest in more social workers, psychologists, nurses, librarians, and teachers’ assistants.

In his address, Emanuel did not talk about some of the tough decisions the school district had to make during tough budget years, such as the school closings or widespread teacher layoffs that topped 2,000 that same year. 

He did, however, stress his philosophy that investments in children must extend beyond the typical school day. In the letter from the Marshall High School senior, the teen wrote that, until his freshman year of high school, “I never saw or met any males like me who lead successful lives.” The letter went on to praise the nonprofit Becoming A Man, a male mentoring program that has expanded among Chicago schools during Emanuel’s tenure.

The teen intends to attend Mississippi Valley State University next fall, the mayor said. When Emanuel pointed out the young man and his Becoming A Man program mentor in the City Council chambers, many in attendance gave them a standing ovation.



public comment

Chicago sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C. Sullivan High School