When it comes to increasing state funding for Chicago Public Schools, I propose a clear solution:
Get more kids back into classrooms and on the road to graduation.
During the 2009-10 school year, 6,310 high school students in Chicago dropped out of school. Dropped out, in our system, often means expelled or pushed out. It means, in far too many cases, that our educators, administrators, and parents have failed to instill responsibility in and, at the same time, offer opportunity to struggling students.
A successful re-enrollment program must shape responsible and hopeful young people.
More than 25 years ago, I helped found an alternative school on Chicago's Northwest Side with the goal of re-enrolling, supporting, and graduating high school dropouts. We named it El Cuarto Año. When I was a kid, my parents and relatives said to me, "You have to finish el cuarto año, the fourth year." The goal was a high school diploma, never a college degree. My mom finished up to the eighth grade, and my dad completed one year of high school.
Today, El Cuarto Año serves as a successful re-enrollment program to 120 young people. It offers college placement, special education, individualized tutoring, interview preparation, and consistent counseling. Students can earn a full-fledged Illinois diploma.
I went to that school recently to announce my re-enrollment plan to help reduce Chicago's 47 percent dropout rate. Standing before a classroom of students engaged in a Civics lesson, I called for a Chicago version of a state-wide grant program that, today, lacks funding. We cannot wait any longer.
Under my leadership in City Hall, we will select between 14 and 20 schools, including neighborhood schools where the majority of our kids get their education.
At these schools, we will offer a variety of programs, including full- and part-time classes, online courses, GED preparation, college placement, mentoring, and career counseling.
70 Re-Enrollment Support Specialists will staff the programs, provide constant support and feedback, and monitor the students' progress. We will build on what works and cut back on what doesn't.
As we re-enroll students, we increase the amount of General State Aid available to our public schools. If 50 percent of students complete the school year, they bring $4.28 million into our system.
I have long believed that genuine support and real opportunity cost less money and better serve our residents than expulsion and punishment. Expect that belief to guide my re-enrollment plan and my entire administration.