The school climate at Clemente High, a receiving school for students shut out of Austin High, has settled down since a spike in violent incidents earlier this year, says state Sen. Miguel del Valle, vice-chair of the Senate Education Committee. Clemente is located in del Valle’s ethnically diverse 2nd District on the Northwest Side. The veteran legislator talked with Senior Editor Elizabeth Duffrin about school closings, education funding and what legislators will tackle when they return to Springfield.
Will Chicago Public Schools do a better job this year to help students displaced by school closings?
The School Board has to come up with a process that facilitates [school improvement] without causing disruption. I don’t know what that process is, but I do know that they haven’t found it yet.
What are your thoughts about the impact of Renaissance 2010?
We need to create educational options. I see Renaissance 2010 as primarily for that purpose, and for [creating] smaller high schools. So I’m not an across-the-board critic. On the other side of the coin, we’ve got to improve existing schools, reduce the achievement gap and make sure that all facilities are properly equipped and staffed. We shouldn’t see Renaissance 2010 as something that allows us to ignore the needs of regular schools.
Do your constituents feel that the new schools are providing better options?
I have constituents who are pleased with some of the charter schools, [such as] Noble Street and Aspira. (Aspira of Illinois operates Mirta Ramirez and Haugan Middle.)
Do you want to see more charters?
No. I want to see more academic options for our kids in existing schools like Clemente and Wells and North-Grand. That’s my top priority.
What do you think about Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plan to sell the lottery to raise money for education?
[It’s] not my preference. That is not going to solve the long-term problem. It’s a Band-Aid solution. But I guess when you’re bleeding, you’ll take any type of Band-Aid that comes along.
What needs to happen to get more people behind school funding reform?
People need to be educated, and elected officials need to give the discussion an opportunity. They need to stop exploiting our natural tendencies as voters to be opposed to tax increases and give the idea a chance so there’s an open and honest debate. In the process, people can be educated about, number one, the need, and number two, how it is that our current tax structure is unfair.
I was talking with someone in my district who just got a property tax bill. She’s paying almost $7,000 a year because of gentrification and development in her neighborhood. I have a single-family home that has probably more square footage than hers, and I’m paying $2,000.
What other education issues will be coming up in Springfield?
We will continue to talk about reducing the achievement gap. We will continue to be challenged [regarding] our high schools. We’re going to have to continue talking about how the unions, local governments, parents, the business community and the legislature can come together … and acknowledge that we’re in this together and Illinois must improve public education. We’ve done a lot—increased graduation requirements, raised the compulsory school attendance age to 17, increased Advanced Placement courses—but there is still inequity between a city high school and [schools in] the property-rich suburbs.
What do you think about Chicago’s sudden test score increase?
I expected that because there’s been a lot of work done to move kids in that direction. But even with 60 percent at grade level [districtwide], you still have, in some of my schools, fewer than 50 percent of the kids at grade level. That’s just not enough.