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Paul’s Plan for Safer, Better Chicago Schools

The future of our city rests on the shoulders of our school system and our children. But we’re failing them both today in two critical ways. Paul Vallas will address both failures.

Until Chicago schools are SAFE, nothing else matters. Our children cannot thrive in an environment where they are concerned about their safety -- both inside schools and in the surrounding neighborhood. Since COVID-19 began, we have lost nearly 200 children to violence, 95% of whom were supposed to be in the classroom. 


The relative silence coming from Chicago Public Schools leadership on what it can do to address youth violence is deafening, if not revealing, for its lack of a comprehensive plan to address the crime epidemic affecting its students. When it comes to public safety, schools cannot just sit on the sideline. They have to be part of the solution. 

Second, the money needs to follow the kids into the classroom. Right now only 60% of funds reach the classroom. Meanwhile, Illinois State Board of Education testing data reflected 80% of CPS students reading below grade level and less than 15% meeting grade proficiency standards. The data for the most disadvantaged and at-risk students is even worse. This begs the question:

What is CPS doing with all the money?

To the extent that YOUR money is not being invested in our children IN THE CLASSROOM, the system is complicit in a systemic disinvestment in children - one that reinforces the effects of the multi-generational disinvestment in our most vulnerable populations and communities. Disinvestment that has put our schools and children’s safety at risk – and with it the future of our city.


It's well past time to get the central office out of the business of diverting resources that should be reaching students and teachers for curricular and co-curricular programming. Doing so necessitates that we incorporate the representative input from the systems stakeholders – school level administrators, parents, teachers, and for too long undervalued and underrepresented, the students themselves at all levels of the CPS governance system.

Paul Vallas is uniquely qualified to fix these problems and improve public education in Chicago:

  • Paul has made it his life’s work to restore broken education systems - in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Bridgeport, CT. Solving problems for our children has been his primary motivation in public service.

  • Paul knows that the money is there – even though it’s not translating into performance. Enrollment has dropped but tax levies have escalated, so funding has skyrocketed by nearly $2 billion over the last decade. One would expect fewer students and more money to mean more resources reaching students and improving performance in the classroom. But that’s not what’s happening.

Paul will work with teachers, local school leaders, parents, and anyone who sees the safety and education of our kids as our top priority. 

We can make our schools safer, and part of the solution for public safety.

Schools need to bridge the classroom, neighborhood, and surrounding community. Schools need to be open well into the evening, weekend and holidays to provide the academic support to make up for lost instructional time. These schools can partner with local organizations and city agencies to keep students engaged and provide enriching recreational activities that connect students directly with the greater community. In returning to a community-based approach, the community must be both empowered and reflected in the decision making process. Most of all, our governance system must solicit, receive and incorporate student insights into the touchstones that will attract, engage and sustain them. In short, as we push funding down to the local level, we must elevate and amplify the voice within communities as the driver of program priorities and offerings.

Restore schools as community anchors with open campuses offering extended day and year services

Create high school work study programs

It’s past time work study was an option for ALL students, so we must bring these programs to scale and facilitate the pathways for future success. A little money in the pocket can go a long way toward preventing a young person from falling prey to the clutches of street gangs flashing cash. Paid work-study can be offered in place of non-essential electives to incentivize students to remain in school WHILE introducing them to the work world. In doing so we help these students develop workplace-readiness and life skills AND connect them with supportive mentors who can help build the competence and confidence young adults need to be successful. City departments, governmental agencies the city controls, contractors and subsidized developers can offer the internships. Most of all, students will be situated in safe, productive environments surrounded by positive role models—working men and women.

Alternative schools and adult education & occupational training centers will reclaim students lost to the system

The district can reclaim the thousands of students who left during COVID and those currently “attending” school in name only by expanding the current alternative school network. We can also open “Adult High Schools” for older students that provide education and occupational training. One example is the Youth Connections Charter School (YCCS), an alternative school with 20 community campuses across OUR city that serve young adults who have dropped out, many of which have passed through the criminal justice system. Since its founding in 1998, YCCS has awarded 24,000 young adults their high school diploma. That success led to the state authorizing the expansion of this charter model and authorizing school districts to open “Adult High Schools”. Many of these students that have been lost to the system have been neglected and forgotten, and it’s time to take action to reclaim these individuals. No school district to date has done so.

We need to ensure the money follows the kids into the classroom, restoring power to the community itself.

Empower and trust local communities to know what's best to do with your money for your children

Politicians often ask you to trust them.  I am not going to ask you to do that for a simple reason, I AM GOING TO TRUST YOU – the parents, the community, the teachers in the classroom. That starts with dismantling the central administration and empowering the community through elected Local School Councils. It’s time to push the money down to the local level and let it flow into the classroom. Freeing principals and teachers to innovate in aligning curricular and co-curricular programming with the needs, interests and capacities of the children. That will vary by child and by community. This will enable schools to further reduce class size, expand critical support services like tutoring and mentoring and keep campuses open longer.

Systematically identify children at-risk and provide early intervention and support

Inequity is closely correlated with the circumstances into which a person is born. Too often, government intervenes only after risk has ripened into reality, and just as often, focuses more on symptoms than causes.  True equity must be approached holistically and span the development cycle of our children, starting from birth and even before. We must begin by supporting those at greatest risk - teenage mothers and their children. As such, we must employ a universal cradle to the classroom strategy, including pre- and postnatal care, social and financial support as well as advocacy to support children who are expectant mothers and the children born of those children. Support must then continue and follow children into the classroom to facilitate the early drivers for success. In addition, we must be equipped to help those neglected and suffering within the system itself. This means identifying at-risk children on a school-by-school basis and supporting them both in and out of the classroom - mentorship, tutoring, extracurricular enrichment, work study. This becomes possible only if we push the money down into the classroom and rekindle the school’s relationship with the broader community.

Expand quality school options

Systematically expand quality public school options by converting failing or under-enrolled schools to open enrollment magnet schools and by empowering the community, through their elected Local School Councils, to select better school models if their school is struggling. The communities can select neighborhood-based magnet programs such as the International Baccalaureate Program. The enrollment cap should be lifted on high performing charters and the community empowered to invite public charters to locate in empty or near empty buildings conditional that they serve neighborhood children.

"I know that we can make schools safer spaces, part of the solution to both higher academic achievement and a safer community, and we can drive more decisions and resources into the hands of those closest to our kids. Because their safety and success is our safety and success."



Read More of Paul's Plans for Chicago:

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