The [Tuesday] Papers
"The kids at Taft Elementary School in Lockport enjoy small class sizes and a strong basic curriculum, but the school offers no arts, language or technology classes, and the building's heating system hasn't been upgraded since 1959," the Tribune reports.
"Rondout Elementary School, near Lake Forest, offers Spanish in every grade, beginning with kindergarten. Most students are issued laptops, and they can join the band or chorus and study art, drama or dance.
"The schools are both in the Chicago area, but they're miles apart in funding because of the state's heavy reliance on property taxes to finance education. Taft spent $7,023 in operating costs per student in 2010, while Rondout spent more than three times that much - a whopping $24,244 - for each child."
Which school would you rather send your kid to? Then don't say money doesn't matter.
"The spending data, released last week as part of the state's annual School Report Card, comes as no surprise to Illinois activists who have complained for decades about inequities in educational funding but found no easy solution. In fact, a Tribune data analysis found the gap in spending between rich and poor districts is no narrower than it was 10 years ago.
"In both 2002 and 2011, the 10 poorest schools on average spent 30 percent of what the 10 richest schools spent on average to educate each student, according to the analysis."
School "reform" comes and goes; buzzwords and silver bullets and tough talk and the blame-game. But the problem with bad schools isn't teachers or standards or lack of uniforms or school days that aren't long enough; it's the inequity of resources that leaves so many Chicago classrooms with a fraction of the resources that Rahm Emanuel's children will get at their fancy private school. The elite make sure their kids don't lose their class status regardless of their innate abilities or work ethic. And all that does is bake in the inequities that pols like Rahm pretend to care so passionately about.
And as long as inequity is finally on the table - thanks, Occupiers! - let's face the fact that it starts long before kids arrive on school property. Poor kids are already woefully "behind" by the time they show up for their first class. If you want to solve our education problems, you have to start with our economic model.
"Ralph Martire, executive director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, calls Illinois' education funding system 'structurally racist,' and he disagrees with those who argue that throwing more money at the problem will not fix it.
"'All the data show that if you want equal academic outcomes for children who grow up in poverty, you have to spend more' on food programs, extended school days and other services, said Martire, who is based in Chicago but serves on the federal Commission on Educational Excellence and Equity."
If money didn't matter, our mayor wouldn't be sending his kids to a school that charges $21,000 a year for kindergarten instead of to a public school for which tuition has already been deducted from his property taxes.
Too bad the vast majority of kids under the mayor's authority don't have that same educational opportunity.
Meanwhile: CME, Sears Tax Break Package Expands
Rahm's Secret Government
"It's Emanuel's way of keeping his promise to create 'the most open, accountable and transparent government that the city of Chicago has ever seen.'
"But efforts to peer into the daily operations of the mayor himself - a man with enormous say over hundreds of millions of dollars in city contracts, hiring and regulations - are met by a stone wall.
"The mayor refused Tribune requests for his emails, government cellphone bills and his interoffice communications with top aides, arguing it would be too much work to cross out information the government is allowed to keep private. After lengthy negotiations to narrow its request for two months of these records, the newspaper was told that almost all of the emails had been deleted."
As I've written before, I was stunned when I arrived in Chicago as a reporter 20 years ago to find that, unlike other cities and states where I had worked, the Freedom of Information laws here were routinely ignored by government officials. And the local media was - and remains - partly to blame for enabling (in all sorts of ways) what is in effect treasonous behavior. It's not like this everywhere. Finally the media may be realizing it.
"Emanuel's response is in keeping with that of his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, who repeatedly denied similar requests under the state's Freedom of Information Act. But it's not the practice in major cities across the nation.
"A Tribune survey found such records are routinely available - in many cases with a phone call or an e-mail request - in Atlanta, Boston, Hartford, Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Seattle."
A former editor of mine in Florida told me a few years ago that his City Hall reporter was automatically cc'ed on all of the mayor's e-mail. It's called democracy, which is still a foreign concept in the city that now also stocks so much of the White House.
"City officials routinely invoke the legal right to a two-week extension to comply with records requests, only to reject them. Weeks of negotiations may follow. Like the game Battleship where players try to guess the location of hidden ships, officials frequently ask that requests be narrowed and then respond that such records don't exist. In the end those seeking records are often left with only one option - a potentially expensive and drawn-out legal fight."
That's exactly right, and it's infuriating. And then you get people like Chris Mather.
"Of course it is possible to get records out of the mayor's office," Emanuel's communications director, Chris Mather, told the Tribune. "The problem here is not with the mayor's office, but with your request."
Why do you hate democracy so much, Chris? Is it your taxpayer-funded $162,492 annual salary that bought your soul?
"Ann Spillane, chief of staff to Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office works to resolve public records disputes, said cellphone bills are public, as well as email strings.
"'I don't know anything about the records retention policy at the city of Chicago,' she said. 'But they cannot simply by virtue of the way they handle public records, make a claim that it is unduly burdensome to provide them.'"
Now there's a new marching slogan: Democracy is not unduly burdensome. This, on the other hand, is what democracy looks like:
"In Phoenix, all emails to and from the mayor and City Council are automatically directed to the city clerk's office, where they are viewable on a public computer terminal.
"In Seattle, the details of every closed police internal affairs case are posted online. In Hartford, all the numbers on the mayor's cellphone bill are of public record.
"In Boston, city officials in 2009 posted online some 11,000 emails from a city official following a Boston Globe public records request that revealed the official had been deleting his emails against state records laws."
A lot of data geeks are thrilled by Rahm's "transparency" efforts but they're missing the point: government-approved data is not the same as the real transparency of fulfilling valid requests for public records by journalists and other citizens. It's one thing to find out the sketchiest details about a random crime that happened recently near your block; it's another to find out how the redeployment of officers in your district or a funding decision at City Hall led to that crime going unsolved. Data is the lowest form of information; it takes journalism to turn it into something useful.
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Posted on November 8, 2011
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