How a Chicago mayor’s proposal to make post-grad plans a requirement for graduating harms Black & Brown students

Not content with over-policing Black folks in the streets and at their schools, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now extending these practices into their academics. Earlier this week, the mayor shared his bright idea for requiring Chicago Public Schools students to produce a letter of acceptance from a 2 or 4-year university, vocational school, a branch of the military, or a job before receiving their diploma–starting with this year’s freshman class.

He framed this as a method to push students and make “the 14th grade universal,” assuming it would encourage them to have a post-high school plan. However, he neglected to address the true issues at hand: CPS is a struggling school district with decreasing enrollment serving Black and Brown kids with lower quality learning environments in neighborhoods that have been routinely divested from. The problem is not student apathy, the problems are the adults elected into leadership.

Mayor Emanuel likes numbers and has skewed them before to make himself look good. So, let’s look at some numbers that can frame his unrealistic graduation requirement in reality:

  • Black and Brown students comprise 84.2% of the Chicago Public School district population;
  • 80.2% of CPS students receive free and reduced lunch (the metric used to measure low-income status)
  • Property taxes fund CPS in a city where the average median income is $48,000 (compared to IL Gov. Rauner’s hometown there is a $160,000 difference)
  • In Chicago, per pupil spending is at about $15,000 (again, compared to Rauner’s hometown there is a $7,000 difference on spending per student)

Essentially, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is requiring students and their families–who are predominately low-income and of color–to make a way out of damn near no way. Low property taxes explain the small budget for instruction and operations in CPS; lower per-pupil spending and a lack of state funds in both cases explains the inadequate resources available to teach and help students. While struggle is an anchor in the history of Black and Brown folks in this country, in the year 2017 why is it still so hard to fund and teach the babies? (Hint: the answer is systemic racism but we already knew that, I’m just so tired of it.)

Not being able to afford college is one of the top reasons students don’t pursue it after high school. While Emanuel says that they will be beefing up college counseling and scholarships, this is still putting already struggling families in a position dangerous to their intergenerational wealth and could quite possibly encourage higher dropout rates for students who can’t meet the requirement. This additional step needed to graduate will negatively impact Black and Brown students at disproportionate rates, point blank period.

Just as foul is the listed option to join the military post-high school. The U.S. is an imperialistic war machine. Funneling our students into the military because of the pressure of graduating is immoral. Just last night 45 bombed Syria. With him in office, it is hard to predict what diplomatic relations will be like by 2020, and we should not be willing to risk the lives of our youth so that Emanuel can get his graduation numbers up or add to his resume that he had a hand in students’ post-high school plans.

Chicago chapter BYP100 co-chair Luna White describes the proposed requirement as anti-Black “as some of these students’ best option is not college, community college, or apprenticeship,” and they suggested alternatives such as providing financial literacy programs, not closing schools, and actually releasing a budget.

“This won’t negatively impact white students in situations where they are supported in finding these next steps,” said White, “This is a way to stop Black students and poor students from getting their diploma and keeping them from being able to obtain employment that might allow for them to survive.”

Mayor Emanuel and his office need to redirect their attention to their own processes and policies that have created conditions where post-high school plans are a challenge in the first place. Historically and currently, Chicago is the most segregated city in the country and continues to divest from it’s Black and Brown communities. Requiring CPS students to produce a letter of acceptance to graduate high school attempts to remove the blame from his office and other leadership, and implicate students as apathetic towards their studies. In reality, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proved apathetic to the needs and security of Black and Brown folks in the city yet again, and implementing this requirement will only add to Chicago’s legacy of disparaging these communities even further.