It’s official: Chicago Public Schools will close 49 elementary schools for good

Font Size:

Autumn seemed like dark days for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Chicago Teachers Union had declared a strike, shutting down public schools across the city. Nearly two weeks later, Emanuel had capitulated to substantial salary increases for teachers over three years.

Only a fool would bet against Mayor Rahm, though. Not for nothing is the foul-mouthed former ballerina nicknamed Rahmbo. Turns out, the former Clinton adviser and Obama chief of staff was playing chess while the union was playing checkers.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education voted 6-0 to shutter 48 elementary schools and one high school program, reports the Chicago Tribune. (The vote was closer for a 49th elementary school.) All affected students will transfer once their schools close.

The school closings are the centerpiece in Emanuel’s long-term plan to close the $1 billion budget deficit currently facing the city, according to CBS Chicago.

By comparison, the raises teachers got as a result of their strike have an estimated price tag of $74 million each year, notes the Tribune.

The move to close so many schools in such a short time is unprecedented in any large American city (though Philadelphia is also closing a couple dozen schools).

“We can no longer embrace the status quo because the status quo is not working for all Chicago schoolchildren,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, according to the Trib. “It is imperative that you take the difficult decision but essential steps.”

“I firmly believe the most important thing we can do as a city is provide the next generation with a brighter future,” said Emanuel in statement.

Emanuel is continuing — in radical fashion — a transformation initiated some two decades ago by then-Mayor Richard Daley who convinced the Illinois legislature to give the city considerable power to overhaul public education. As the Trib notes, Hizzoner presciently saw improved public schools as critical to luring and sustaining a middle-class tax base.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and an ardent critic of Mayor Emanuel, has promised to force the mayor out of office over the school closings. The union has also filed lawsuits.

“Today is a day of mourning for the children of Chicago,” Lewis lamented in an email obtained by The Daily Caller. “Their education has been hijacked by an unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board, acting at the behest of a mayor who has no vision for improving the education of our children.”

Lewis swore that her side will eventually win the war.

“Our fight for education justice has now moved to the courts, but it must eventually move to the ballot box,” the labor leader wrote. “We must resist this neoliberal savagery masquerading as school reform.  We must resist racism in all of its forms as well as the escalating attacks on the working-class and the poor.”

The Chicago Teachers Union will hold an event designed to teach people how to register voters on Thursday evening at Bethel AME Church on Chicago’s South Side.

Follow Eric on Twitter and send education-related story tips to