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'Stuck' in the City, Chicago Parents Yearn for Better Schools

A sluggish housing market has stemmed the flow of young parents into Chicago's suburbs, putting pressure on city officials to make public schools better, John Pletz reports.
March 28, 2012, 12pm PDT | Ryan Lue
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Traditionally, many property-owning couples in Chicago make the move out to the suburbs once their children reach school-age. As Pletz explains, "During the last quarter-century, thousands of people flooded annually into suburban DuPage and Will counties, making them among the fastest-growing jurisdictions in the country." But the recent collapse of the housing market has changed that, keeping families in the city and turning public attention toward performance of Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

"There's a huge opportunity... to attract and keep families in the system who otherwise would have left," says Timothy Knowles, director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute. And while the force of public scrutiny may help Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his effort to overhaul the system, annual deficits of roughly half a billion dollars loom large over city officials.

Meanwhile, concerned parents have taken a more active role in ensuring the quality of their children's education, Pletz writes: "Activist parents raise money, expectations and standards... Nonprofit groups such as Friends of Coonley routinely raise more than $100,000 annually for extra teachers, equipment and programs such as ecology." In addition, competition for selective elementary schools has skyrocketed over the past four years.

"Parents are trying to navigate CPS and get the best education for their kids as possible," says Alderman Ameya Pawar. "At some point the market is going to come back. We need to figure out how to keep people here and get new people moving in. We've probably got three to five years."

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Published on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 in Crain's Chicago Business
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