CITY HALL — Moving to improve rising graduation rates, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced two new summer orientation programs Monday, to be paid for with $6 million in new tobacco taxes.
According to the Mayor's Press Office, the initiatives are intended to sustain the momentum in improving graduation rates, with a goal of attaining 85 percent by 2019.
"Chicago’s students are already making unprecedented gains and outpacing their peers nationwide in academic achievement," Emanuel said in a statement released Monday. "These programs will build on that progress by ensuring that students are prepared going into their high-school years."
Emanuel called it "a win-win, as it not only invests in the education of our youth, but works to prevent them from ever picking up smoking."
The weeklong freshman orientation grows out of a similar program at Payton College Prep and will be extended to all 20,000 incoming freshmen in Chicago Public Schools. It will instruct them in improving study habits, while encouraging relationships between students and teachers and just generally acclimating students to their new schools.
Whitney Young and Jones high schools also have orientation programs, among other schools.
Another summer program, however, will target incoming eighth-graders at risk of dropping out and provide them with additional study skills and lessons in "emotional readiness" to succeed in high school, according to the release. Designed with the input of the University of Chicago Urban Labs, it's intended to put eighth-graders back on a path to graduation before they even enter high school.
CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson touted the programs as enabling students to "continue building on the success we have already seen,” adding, “As a former principal, I know that in-depth high-school orientation that focuses on both academics and social adjustments is critical in ensuring that all students who come through our doors are successful from day one, so that every student can graduate on time and prepared for post-secondary success.”
The city will pay for the programs by expanding tobacco taxes, including a tax on smokeless tobacco long sought by Ald. Joe Moreno (1st). Taxes will be imposed on smokeless tobacco, loose tobacco and cigars to fill what the Mayor's Press Office called a "tobacco gap."
New taxes proposed by Emanuel, in an ordinance co-sponsored by Moreno and Ald. Will Burns (4th), chairman of the Education Committee, include 15 cents per "little cigar," raising the cost of a pack of 20 by $3, 90 cents per cigar, $6.60 per ounce of "roll-your-own" tobacco and $1.80 per ounce of smokeless tobacco.
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