Chicago is proposing to shutter more than 10 per cent of its elementary schools — or 61 schools in total — in what would be the largest public school closing in US history, to address a projected $1 billion budget gap for education.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, cited by the Associated Press, said the closures were part of a consolidation of underperforming schools.
Chicago Public Schools, the country's third-largest school district, has reported that nearly half of its 681 schools are under-enrolled, with 140 of them more than half empty, CNN added.
The Financial Times points out that numbers of students enrolled at urban public schools across the US have been falling amid lower birth rates and increased popularity of charter schools.
Chicago joins Philadelphia and Washington in closing schools to reduce spending, although its planned cuts are the largest.
However, an analysis of US Census data by the Christian Science Monitor suggests that, despite an an 18 percent drop in the number of children aged 5-19, the proportion of Chicago school-aged children enrolled in CPS actually increased between 2000-2010 from 69 percent to 80 percent.
The proposal has been blasted both by the teachers union and parent groups who say that the city is misleading the public.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the move would disproportionately affect African-American students.
It would also expose students to gang violence and turf wars, said union president Karen Lewis.
"This city cannot destroy that many schools at one time, and we contend that no school should be closed in the city of Chicago. These actions will not only put our students' safety and academic careers at risk but also further destabilize our neighborhoods. We do not have a utilization crisis. What we have is a credibility crisis. CPS continues to peddle half-truths, lies and misinformation in order to justify its campaign to wipe out our schools and carry out this corporate-driven school-reform nonsense."
However, Emanuel said the closures were a necessary financial measure, and blamed population drops.
Facing a $1 billion budget deficit in the new fiscal year, the CPS would save between $500,000 and $800,000 for each closed school.
Emanuel said in a statement:
"Our students cannot wait for us to put off these difficult decisions any longer…. This problem is not unique to Chicago, and like school systems where enrollment has dropped, we must make tough choices."
CPS chief executive Barbara Byrd-Bennett told CNN:
"Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resourced schools ... Like school systems across the country where enrollment has dropped, Chicago must make tough choices, and by consolidating these schools, we can focus on safely getting every child into a better performing school close to their home."