CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would continue to make education a top priority should he win a second term next year.
"I ran for mayor to get our education fixed so it is working for students and not the politicians. There is nothing worth talking about unless we are going to talk about improving the school system because everything centers around education," Emanuel said.
The mayor met with black journalists on Friday at Ruby's restaurant in Austin where he discussed his vision for improving education, from elementary to community colleges, and explained why that needs to be done to successfully address other issues, such as housing, crime and economic development.
"What motivates kids is the idea that a good education could lead to a good, paying job. Our five STEM schools, one of them, Sarah Good, was on the cover of Time (magazine) four weeks ago and is associated with IBM," Emanuel said while chowing down on fried chicken, collard greens and white rice. "And Michelle Clark (high school) is associated with Cisco and has a 90 percent graduation rate."
In 2012, only 61 percent of all CPS students graduated high school, Emanuel said. While that was a record high for the city the mayor said he is aiming 100 percent.
The plan drew widespread criticism, and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the school closings targeted minority neighborhoods since most of the closed schools had a predominately black or Hispanic population.
The mayor said his quest to improve education goes beyond high school.
He added that when he was elected in 2011 the graduation rate for City Colleges of Chicago had been "stuck for decades in the mid 50s."
"Our system was your last chance at a remedial education, and now it's your first chance at a career. Last year we were at 65 percent and in three years we are going to be at 80 percent," Emanuel said. "That's why I am proud of what we are doing at the community colleges level."
The Aspen Institute recently announced that Kennedy-King College and Wilbur Wright College are contenders for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The two City Colleges are among 150 schools from 37 states being considered for the prize.
The top 10 finalists will be announced this fall, and the winner will be announced in early 2015.
When it comes to economic development the mayor said, "if we want to do what we got to do as a city we have to continue to attract businesses to grow. Small, medium or large."
Additionally, the mayor said 25,000 people a year are released from prison and return to Chicago to live, but often find a lack of housing and job opportunities available to them.
But by expanding city job and housing programs for ex-offenders it would help their transition back into society, he said. Joining the mayor at a Friday news conference to talk about second chances for ex-offenders was U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago). According to Davis, city job programs will serve almost 2,200 former inmates this year, which doubles the 900 the city handled in 2011.
"This program will reunite families and if it works I believe it is the right thing to do," the mayor said.