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Di Leo: Rahm’s School Closures and the Challenges of Big City Life

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Paul Robeson High School

By John F. Di Leo - 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel started out the month of December with announcements of further school closings. The most upsetting to the community was the announcement that four high schools – Harper, Hope, Robeson, and Team Englewood – would be closed to support the construction of a new and hopefully far superior replacement.

Rather that responding with appreciation that the city is attempting to provide improved facilities for its students, there has been a public outcry, as if the Mayor is the Grinch this Christmas season in Chicago.

Now, far be it from me to defend Rahm Emanuel, but on the big picture – what should Chicago do about its schools? – he’s far closer to right than the protesters are.

Chicago school enrollment is plummeting, because most demographics are having fewer children, because those that do have large families tend to produce students who drop out during high school, and because people of most demographics are fleeing the state in general. Are we expected to keep schools in business despite empty classrooms, just for convenience, or just to keep unneeded CPS employees on the payroll?

For several years now, Illinois has been losing a hundred thousand people a year. Now, there are a lot of reasons for this, but here are just a few:

  • Weather. This is a mobile generation, and there are more Chicagoans who would like to live in Texas or Florida than there are Texans or Floridians who would like to live in Illinois. So people move out, seeking warmer climates and freedom from snow shoveling.
  • Taxes. Illinois is now, by most measures, the most highly-taxed state in the union. As we continue to increase our tax burden, we drive out homeowners with our property taxes; we drive our shoppers with our sales taxes, and we drive out both individuals and employers with our income taxes. There are states that beat Illinois on one or two of those rates, but no other state – not New Jersey, New York, or even California – is considered as inhospitable as Illinois when you add up the total package.
  • Jobs. As Illinois’ tax burden drives out both individuals and their employers, the departure rate builds on itself: as your employees leave, the employer must leave; for an individual, as your employer leaves, so must you. Illinois needs radical course correction at the state level, to correct not only the day’s obvious negatives (tax rates, regulatory overreach and workmen’s comp burdens), but also the not-so-hidden time-bombs set for the future (state employee pensions, the state and municipal workforce burden in general). The state is designed to consume money it does not have, and realistically, has no prayer of obtaining.
  • Crime. The massive crime burden of Illinois has both huge direct effects (the cost of busy police, jails and courts, the danger of many neighborhoods) and even more severe indirect effects (the cost of auto and property insurance, the loss of jobs and property taxes as areas considered dangerous are abandoned, or migrate from high-value property lists to the low). While Chicago remains the nation’s leader in crime, it cannot hope to stem the tide of good people fleeing.
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Now, these points are not lost on the protestors; they just take the wrong lessons from them.

The protestors would respond “But of course we’re aware of the high crime; that’s why we want our kids to have a shorter walk to school! And of course we’re aware of the lack of jobs; that’s why we can’t afford expensive private schools, so we need the government schools!  And of course we’re aware of the bad weather; that’s another reason we want school to be across the street, since winter is a harsh time for kids to trudge to school in snow and ice!”

But where the protestors fall short is in making the connections between desires and reality. Of course everyone would like a school across the street… but we cannot afford it.  Chicago – and all Illinois, for that matter – is effectively bankrupt.

Chicago is a massive city, once home to 3.5 million citizens, in its heyday, over a half century ago.

But a quarter of that number has now fled, for the suburbs or even for other states. With under 2.5 million citizens remaining, the city only maintains the fiction of a 2.7 million population count by acting as a magnet to illegal aliens.

Some half million illegal aliens are estimated to reside in the sanctuary state of Illinois, the vast majority in Chicago. The politics and legality of this issue aside, any objective observer can see what this means, economically, to Chicago.   The tax-paying population is retreating as the tax-consuming population climbs. As people move in and put children in school, people move out who used to fund those schools with their taxes.

It is a vicious circle.

We all understand that parents don’t want to send their children to grammar schools or high schools that are a mile farther than their old one… that they don’t want their children to have to walk through bad neighborhoods on that route… that the students’ lack of part-time job opportunities and the parents’ lack of full-time job opportunities are all a terrible challenge, made even more difficult by longer commutes.

But the fact remains that a bankrupt city in a bankrupt state cannot continue to fund countless convenient schools, at CPS salaries and benefits, for an ever-dwindling student population. The situation is simply untenable.

What these parents need to do is join with the movement that has long called for reform – both in Illinois and across the country. There is a movement whose solutions would address these issues, and bring employment back to the cities, bringing revenue back in so that bills could be paid.   This movement would create the part-time jobs for students that can pave the way to careers as they grow up.

What are these solutions, you may ask?

Crime: Severely restricting such technicality acquittal tactics as the exclusionary rule, boosting minimum sentencing, applying the death penalty to real capital crimes (drug dealing, violent rape, mugging, murder, gang recruitment, etc.)… this would clear the cities of the dangers that drive employers away and destroy the property values that once produced property tax collections, and could again.

Taxes: Reducing our tax rates to levels similar to our competitors.  If we want to compete with Texas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri for jobs and residents, we must lower our tax burden so the sticker shock doesn’t drive people off.  And we can only afford to do this if we first cut our state and local payrolls, and modernize our pension structure, without further delay.

Illegal Immigration: We could cease to be a sanctuary state in a day; with a single vote in Springfield, and a couple of simultaneous votes in Chicago, we would send a message that illegal aliens are no longer welcome here. They cost the state billions per year; driving them out would therefore save us billions per year.  Those billions would be the difference we need.

Every year we postpone these solutions – which require work at the federal, state, and local level – Illinois falls further behind its competitors.

Chicago has both the majority of Illinois’ best attributes – the cuisine, the entertainment, the arts, the architecture, the higher education… and the majority of Illinois’ worst attributes as well – the illegals, the criminal activity, the high taxes, the traffic congestion.

Not everyone likes yearlong heat, the poisonous bugs and dangerous wild animals of the deep south. There are plenty of people who would stay in Illinois, or even move here from somewhere else, if we made Illinois a desirable destination again.  Who wouldn’t leave Florida or Texas for Chicago, if they could get our restaurants, our convenient Metra rail, our great shopping, our professional and community theaters, our comedy clubs, our museums, our world-class universities, our sports venues… if the barriers of high crime, high taxes, and poor employment conditions were removed?

But who favors these solutions? The Right.

And who is in charge of Chicago, and Cook County, and the entire state of Illinois? The Left.

The sad Chicago parents of these sad Chicago children need to know they have allies on the Right. The conservative movement wants the same thing they do – safe neighborhoods, job opportunities, good schools, a shot at real prosperity for their kids after school is done. 

But they continue to vote Democrat. They vote to flood their city with illegals who drain the treasury; they vote to set criminals free to recruit their children into gangs and drive employers away; they vote to exacerbate every problem rather than start on the road to solving them.

Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the path to solving the problems of Chicago – and all of America’s big cities – begins with a single change of mindset;

It’s time to break the tradition of voting Democrat at every level, and to try voting Republican across the board, for a change.

Think about it: uncontested, universal Democrat governance already has your neighborhood so dangerous that you’re afraid your kids’ lives will be in jeopardy just from walking a few blocks farther to school!   Good Heavens… if that doesn’t drive home the fact that you need a complete change in your approach, nothing will.

Copyright 2017 John F. Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based Customs broker and trade compliance trainer, actor and writer. His columns are regularly found in Illinois Review.  Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included.

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