Emanuel calls for unfair graduation demands

By Editorial Board

As if Chicago public high school students don’t have enough to worry about, they now may have to find a way to put together a post-high school plan before they can receive a diploma. 

Mayor Rahm Emaunel announced April 5 that he wants CPS students to show proof of acceptance into college, the military, a trade or “gap-year” program, a job program, full-time employment or have a job offer letter before being allowed to graduate. The initiative, called “Learn. Plan. Succeed.,” would make Chicago the first city in the country to implement such a plan. Emanuel’s proposal has not been approved yet, and the Board of Education is set to review it at an upcoming meeting, but with a mayor-appointed board, the class of 2020 might be the first to have to meet these requirements.

However, without adequate funding, this initiative is meaningless. CPS hasn’t had full funding in two years, thanks to the state budget crisis. CEO Forrest Claypool threatened March 22 to cut school three weeks early because of a more than $200 million budget shortfall. There’s barely enough money to make it through the current fiscal year, yet Emanuel is trying to institute a requirement that means hiring more counselors to figure out a plan students may not want. 

Emanuel contends existing resources are adequate. According to the same April 5 mayoral press release, about 40 percent of school counselors have obtained the certification needed to help students with their post-secondary plans, and for those who don’t, CPS will ensure they have sufficient training. CPS is reportedly working with the mayor and raising $1 million in funding to advance the training. 

That money would be better spent on job-training programs, internships, school clubs and other means of potential income, advancement of communication skills and community-building. 

City Colleges has open admission policies, so that path is open to all students, but it may not be the best choice for everyone. Some have siblings to care for, have no transportation or ability to hold a job and aren’t able to afford class fees. This initiative would put unnecessary pressure on students. Also, it’s likely schools will cut corners on counseling, and the process will devolve to checking off boxes on a standard form—defeating the purpose of Emanuel’s initiative entirely.

Emanuel said the aim is for CPS students to consider high school graduation as a milestone rather than a destination, according to the April 5 press release. The plan itself has good intentions, but CPS students already graduate at the significantly low rate of 73.5 percent, according to a Sept. 5, 2016 official CPS blog post, despite implementation of new, accelerated academic programs. This proposal could cause that to drop further.

This initiative sounds as if Emanuel wants to say he made an effort to address the problem of unemployed youth, even if his solution is not a very good one. He needs to recognize that most CPS students—like many other high school students—don’t know what they want to do at this point and do not have programs allowing them to meet requirements beneficially, even if they did. Students will react more affirmatively to the idea of planning their future if an incentive rather than a punishing, deterrent is provided to them.