BRIGHTON PARK — A fully funded and properly run public school system would save countless young people from resorting to violence, a group of elected officials and community members said Tuesday.
With CPS still working to plug a $300 million budget hole before an early August deadline, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council held a rally Tuesday at Shields Middle School, 2611 W. 48th St., to tell school officials that further cuts to neighborhood schools are not acceptable.
At the event, local students and community members spoke of the hardships put upon families and schools because of the funding crisis. Kids and parents asked questions to elected officials, who vowed to help the schools find funds.
Kids even performed a short play that depicts the life of students amidst budget cuts. The kids fought over who would sit in the not-broken desks, complain of dirty bathrooms and who would have to share textbooks and other supplies.
The loss in funding means schools go without textbooks and functioning desks, as well as sit with classrooms with faulty roofs, students said. But it also means that kids turn their focus from education to other things, including violence and gangs.
Ivan Diaz, a student at Kelly High School, 4136 S. California Ave., said teachers there have been lost and classes have been shuttered. He said even he could see that "cuts in schools correlates with a rise in violence."
With the city plagued by gun violence, an emphasis on schooling and mentoring kids is needed, the group said.
"The research shows that youth programs and resources are essential in decreasing violence in communities," said Sara Reschly, community partnership director with the Brighton Park neighbors group.
Programs like Teen Reach and other after-school efforts that work heavily with CPS have been slashed, and thousands of kids have been turned away from summer jobs programs.
"Addressing violence is a multi-pronged effort," said Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th). "We will never arrest our way into making the neighborhood safer. Our children need something to do 365 days a year."
The Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, according to a news release from the organization, is seeking a raise in the per-pupil funding amount to $5,000 per student, up from the current $4,087 that schools receive for each student.
To achieve that, the group is seeking new revenue streams from CPS, or a divesting in tax-incremental financing, or TIF, funds so that neighborhoods can reinvest in schools.
"Stop funding unnecessary development Downtown and instead focus on ensuring our children's futures," said Janeth Herrera, a mother of two at Kelly High School.
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