With Chicago Public Schools claiming a $700 million budget shortfall in 2012, over 75 VOYCE youth ralied at CPS headquarters today to call on the new administration to overhaul its approach
to school discipline, invest public dollars in policies proven to improve school safety and student achievement, and share the negative impacts that harsh discipline has had on their education. Their recommendations and testimonies were supported by parents and teachers from the community, as well as Advancement Project's Jim Freeman and Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey.
VOYCE's report, "Failed Policies, Broken Futures: The True Cost of Zero Tolerance in Chicago," illustrates the negative impact that harsh discipline policies at CPS have on school safety and student achievement, at a huge cost to taxpayers. Key findings include:
- Harsh discipline policies are overused at CPS, keeping students out of valuable learning time and decreasing their chances of graduating, contributing to hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term public costs. For example, in 2009, there were 4,597 school-based arrests of CPS students age 16 and younger. 78% of these arrests were for misdemeanors. Students who have been arrested are 50% more likely to drop out.
- CPS's overuse of harsh discipline policies has cost the city tens of millions of dollars in the short term, and diverted funds from proven approaches to school safety, such as mental health supports and counseling. In last year's budget, for example, CPS allocated just $3.5 million towards school-based college and career coaches and $51.4 million towards school-based security guards.
"Everyone says there's violence and students aren't learning, but that's because our education is being taken away by un necessary discipline measures," said Pamela Lewis, a senior at Gage Park High School and leader with SWOP. "You get suspended for being three minutes late to class or having your cell phone out. You get arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for expressing an opinion to the police in the school. It makes me feel like they are limiting our education."
KOCO leaders O'Sha Dancy and Pierre Williams emceed Thursday's press conference in graduation caps and gowns. "You might wonder why we're wearing this," said O'Sha as he opened up the press conference to loud cheers from the 75 youth packed into CPS's front lobby. "It's because this is what we want the future of Chicago Public Schools to look like!"
Youth speakers then described the key findings of the report and called for a major re-write of the Student Code of Conduct, greater transparency on how disciplinary actions are used in the schools, and investments in prevention-based strategies. "A budget reflects what you prioritize," said Danny Vazquez, a BPNC leader and senior at Kelly High School. "CPS, what are your priorities? Let's stop spending on security and start investing in youth!"
A full PDF of "Failed Policies, Broken Futures" is available for download by clicking here. VOYCE's press conference was covered by major news outlets, including Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago News Cooperative, Catalyst Chicago and Chicago Public Radio . You can also check out coverage at Huffington Post, Colorlines , and Chris Sturgis's Connected By 25 blog . Additional coverage of the press conference, including youth blog posts, will be added here soon. Stay tuned!