Slow Housing Market Forcing many Families to Stay Put in Chicago. What does this mean for CPS?
Posted on April 8, 2012 by Be Chicagood
For many families in Chicago, once their child is of age to enter school, the idea was to sell their home in Chicago and move to a better school district with safer neighborhoods and bigger homes in the burbs. But with the sluggish economy and crippled housing market, many families are not able to sell their homes. Instead they are forced to stay put in Chicago, meaning a small but growing group of middle-class families are turning to Chicago’s public and private schools. Mayor Rahm and The Chicago Public School are now faced with a new element in dealing with improving Chicago Public Schools. This can be a good thing or a more of a headache in the plans the City has to revamp their education system.
These new families are now staying put and paying more attention to the public school system in Chicago.
“I’ve had lots of clients who thought they would be able to sell their condo and can’t. So they are now trying to make it work” in city schools, says Christine Whitley, an education consultant who helps families through the Chicago Public Schools selection process. “They bought their condo way before they had kids and didn’t really factor schools into the equation. They figured they could sell and move to a better neighborhood or move to the suburbs. Now they can’t sell it, so they’re trying to figure out options” in the city.
Many do keep planning to move once economy factors improve but an improved education system in Chicago could present itself as a compelling case for these families to stay put and continue to lend their voice and concerns for Chicago Public Schools. These parents who are now forced to participate in the dialogues of improving education in the CPS could help accelerate the progress the city has been making, but it also could put some serious strain on the limited resources and funding the city is working with. These new families are clamoring for more investment and putting pressure on local politicians. According to Crain’s Business- Chicago had to close deficits of more than $500 million annually in each of the past three years. Budget gaps in the school system have ranged from $475 million to $712 million. But the heightened attention also strengthens Mr. Emanuel’s hand against the teachers union as he pushes for a longer school day, closes underperforming schools and supports charter schools.
“There’s a huge opportunity that Rahm has to attract and keep families in the system who otherwise would have left,” says Timothy Knowles, director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute. “It’s going to come down to strategic choices: Do you make investments in education or policing to make neighborhoods safer?”
A New Voice
This new opportunity is creating new and much needed dialogue between parents and schools. CPS Director of Media Affairs Robyn Ziegler released a statement that the school system is laboring to increase the seats in high-performing schools, lengthen the school day, create a more rigorous curriculum and develop better training for principals.
“It is part of our mission to engage these parents in a robust and meaningful way,” wrote Ms. Ziegler. “CPS has never truly engaged parents in this way, and we are working to break away from this status quo approach that has alienated parents from the process.”
Mr. Pawar says the city knows it has an opportunity to keep families by improving the schools. He points to a recent decision to add specialty programs in science, technology, engineering and math at five high schools, including Lake View in his ward. The city teamed up with tech giants Motorola Solutions Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. to develop the programs.
“That was a tipping point,” the alderman says. “They’re looking for ways to hang on to people and give them reasons to stay.”
A look at how many Parents are staying put in Chicago
According to Crain’s Business: The total number of people staying in the city who otherwise would have moved isn’t huge: perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 a year over the past few years. But it’s a big change in the trend line: CPS enrollment dropped significantly in the middle of the last decade but largely has been stable at about 400,000 since 2007-08, when the recession hit. Enrollment at the 10 largest suburban districts, which had been growing quickly, also generally has been flat since the recession began, according to data from the Illinois Board of Education.
During the last quarter-century, thousands of people flooded annually into suburban DuPage and Will counties, making them among the fastest-growing jurisdictions in the country. But when the recession hit, housing prices fell and job losses rose.
The number of people leaving Cook County for the collar counties dropped by an average of 35 percent between early 2007 and 2010, according to Internal Revenue Service data.
From the real estate market peak in 2005-06 until 2009-10, those moving from Cook to DuPage dropped by 25 percent, according to IRS data compiled for Crain’s by Geoffrey Hewings and Chenxi Yu of the Regional Economics Application Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Movement to Kane County dropped by 37 percent, Lake County 38 percent, Will County 53 percent, McHenry County 54 percent and Kendall County 56 percent. After nearly quadrupling from 1997 to 2007, enrollment at Plainfield Schools in Will County flattened out, then dropped the past two years.
Parent’s involvement has huge impacts
With the new voices of concern and help being demanded to be heard, this can only mean good things for Chicago Schools. Activist parents raise money, expectations and standards. Some of the best-known examples are Alexander Graham Bell, Blaine, John C. Coonley and Nettelhorst elementary schools on the North Side. Nonprofit groups such as Friends of Coonley routinely raise more than $100,000 annually for extra teachers, equipment and programs such as ecology.
“Coonley was going be a school that was going to close,” says Mr. Pawar, whose ward is home to Coonley, Bell, Waters and Audubon schools. “Now it’s one of the best schools in the city.”
The city figures it has about 3-5 years to make dramatic changes in school to keep these parents in the city and involved in schools. These parents aren’t giving up on the city’s education system and are willing to work with it. If their voices aren’t being heard and changes aren’t being implemented to cover their concerns, expect parents to leave. Mayor Rahm and CPS will have to work closely to strategize how they will fund schools and maintain safe neighborhoods. Not only them, but the schools will have to learn to adapt and utilize these new parents and resources to attract them and stay competitive. These parents bring money that otherwise schools wouldn’t have had. These parents are willing to donate and spend money to ensure their kid gets the best education they can. It also won’t hurt that these parents will be expecting great extra curricular activities and after school programs. These programs can help keep kids off the streets.
It will be interesting to see how the education landscape will change and develop. Hopefully we can expect the CPS and charter schools to be competitive and willing to listen and work with parents to develop and implement strong education curriculum for our youth. This is certainly a rare opportunity that has fallen on Chicago’s lap. Let’s capitalize on it!