Sep 30, 2022 - News

Near South Side school scuffle

Photo of a street with Chinese architecture.

Population in Chicago's Chinatown has more than doubled over the last three decades. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

CPS is no longer the nation's third-largest school system, according to new enrollment data that puts Chicago behind the Miami-Dade district.

Why it matters: Lower enrollment can mean reduced funding, and this is the 11th straight year the student body has shrunk at CPS.

The intrigue: The enrollment news comes as factions quarrel over the need for a new high school near Chinatown — a rare Chicago community in that the population has more than doubled in three decades.

What's happening: Chinatown residents have been asking for decades for a local high school to serve the cultural and language needs of area families.

  • Nearby South Loop residents also want a new high school, as the area's middle schools are "bursting at the seams," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

The latest: The Chicago School Board narrowly voted this week to build the high school on a lot at the former Harold Ickes public housing complex at 24th and State — between the South Loop and Chinatown.

Yes, but: State Rep. Theresa Mah, who represents Chinatown and supports building a new school, said Tuesday she'd block $50 million in state funding for the Ickes location if the city doesn't further engage the community on the issue.

  • She cited a WBEZ-Chicago Sun-Times report based on CPS memos that suggest the location would hurt nearby majority Black schools and students. The city says it won't.
  • In a Sun-Times op-ed, Mah writes that the move to build on former CHA land could deepen the divide between the local Chinese and Black communities.

The other side: Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Nicole Lee (11th), whose wards are most affected by the school, wrote an op-ed in favor of the new location.

  • Lightfoot has said she expects the state will fully fund the project, despite Rep. Mah's intention to block the money.
  • District official say they will use $70 million previously set aside for a Near West Side school that was never built.
  • CPS says it plans "continued engagement with impacted community members."

The bottom line: Ald. Lee, who was appointed by Lightfoot in March, is in a tough spot.

  • She tells Axios that she knows her Chinatown constituents aren't all in favor of the location, but she sees it as "a net win for a community that has been seeking a local high school for decades."
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