Future Now Plan Susana A. Mendoza


The Idea

As the parent of a 6-year-old attending a neighborhood public school, Susana is deeply and personally invested in the future of Chicago public education. Susana wants parents, grandparents, and teachers to have more of a voice in our schools, and she wants the next mayor to share accountability for improving schools. For too long, education policy has been something done to our communities and done to our families, not worked out with our parents and with our teachers. As mayor, Susana will change that.

Access to a quality education is the bedrock of a strong city. Our most pressing problems — from high crime rates to lack of jobs and economic development — can be addressed by ensuring strong neighborhood schools that create opportunity hubs in every community. We should be proud of the success achieved by CPS teachers and administrators, with record-high graduation rates, higher test scores, the largest IB network in the nation, and stabilized finances. But our real work has just begun. We must ensure every child in every community receives the same high-quality education at their neighborhood school.

Susana’s education plan is built around a simple goal: to close the achievement gap. Susana believes that we can cut the achievement gap by half in the next eight years and set Chicago Public Schools on a path to eliminate it entirely.

While some simply look to the next 50 schools that can be closed, Susana’s 50NEW (Neighborhood Education Works) Initiative is focused on doubling down on the neediest schools by expanding wrap-around services, increasing the number of social workers, and investing in school-based supports in high-poverty schools. Where buildings are underutilized, she will work to put unused space to use by offering subsidized rent to local nonprofits so that our schools become true community hubs.

1) Create a more equitable district

Too often when it comes to education, your zip code determines your destiny. Even though Chicago students outperform their peers with similar demographics outside of the city, there is more work to do. A University of Chicago study found persistent achievement gaps between Black and Latinx students and their white and Asian peers when it came to high school graduation rates, college enrollment, standardized test scores and graduating GPAs.

It also found that male CPS students often lagged behind their female peers. That’s unacceptable to Susana. Susana will make equity a priority to ensure that we as a city are investing more in educating children in underserved neighborhoods.

Chicago Sun-times Future Now Plan Susana A. Mendoza

Rather than close schools with low enrollment, Susana wants to reinvest in 50 under-enrolled, underutilized schools and turn them into true community hubs using the community school model. Using the additional equity funding coming from Springfield, these schools would partner with day care centers, family service providers, job training organizations, and other social service providers to provide wrap-around services to neighborhood kids and their families – everything from nutrition to life skills training to after-school academic help and counseling. By providing these wrap-around services, we can ensure that teachers can teach and principals can lead.

  1. Additional social workers and college counselors in the schools that need them. Earlier this summer, CPS invested $26 million to hire 160 social workers and 94 special education case managers to work inside district schools. The unique needs of students in CPS’ neediest schools require additional investment to provide the supports these students need to thrive. These wrap-around services are critical to helping close the achievement gap and can be funded by an equitable distribution of CPS resources. Susana will work with stakeholders to set a goal for expanding these supports and commit to providing the necessary resources.
  2. Nutrition that students need. We all know that children can’t learn when they’re hungry or worried about being hungry again soon. That’s why Susana helped create the Illinois School Breakfast program when she was a state representative and it’s why she wants to help children get the nutrition they need as part of her 50NEW Initiative. While parents and local community members are taking advantage of job training and other services offered by the community schools, students will have the opportunity to eat supper after school. This will give students the energy and focus they need to get their homework done and prepare themselves for their next day at school.
  3. After-school educational support. Every student should understand that if they need additional help, they can ask for it. That’s why the 50NEW Initiative provides for after-school staff who can help with homework or provide additional support to those students with difficulty in reading or math. These programs will also give parents peace of mind that their children are in a positive educational environment after school, and if they should fall behind in their schoolwork, they have every opportunity to catch back up.
  4. Job training and services. For parents who are in search of employment, juggling the job search with the responsibility of finding child care and ensuring your children are getting the academic help they need can be an insurmountable challenge. The 50NEW Initiative means you can find all of that under one roof. By offering space for skills training and employment service organizations in underutilized schools, parents will be able to unlock their own economic potential at the same time their children are catching up on homework and eating supper.

Within the CPS school district, there exist real disparities between schools in wealthier neighborhoods and those in neighborhoods suffering from high rates of unemployment and crime. CPS should develop a new equity formula to distribute its share of the new funding that CPS will be receiving in the coming years under the new education funding formula.

Susana was a strong supporter of the reform, traveling the state with State Sen. Andy Manar to advocate for changes that gave Chicago schools more equitable funding. The new Springfield formula established a funding target for each school district based on student population and the cost of nearly three dozen practices proven by research to benefit students. Under this bill, the State of Illinois is called upon to invest an additional $350 million in school funding every year over the next decade, with CPS receiving nearly 20%.

Every student deserves a teacher who is invested in their growth and believes in their abilities. As a state representative, Susana helped lead the passage of a bill that helped save over 3,000 teaching jobs. Susana wants to invest in high-quality teachers because she knows that there’s no way to close the achievement gap without them. Through the Opportunity Schools initiative, CPS has recruited strong teachers for 50 schools in low-income neighborhoods and paired them with intensive teacher retention and leadership supports.

Susana will expand and improve this initiative to ensure that the district has a pipeline of quality teachers ready to join schools that need them.

When Susana got to the comptroller’s office, quarterly categorical payments that schools relied on to fund special education programs and transportation for students with special needs were running nearly a year behind. Susana tackled that problem head-on by re-prioritizing payments to ensure that the state’s most vulnerable populations were being served first.

As a result, Chicago Public Schools received $119 million in special education funding it had been expecting to receive months earlier. As mayor, Susana will continue to ensure that schools have the resources they need to give every student a quality education, no matter their abilities.

2) Expand Early Childhood Education

Studies show that the educational benefits of pre-K education are significant. A recent analysis by CPS found that students who attended pre-K achieved higher GPAs, better attendance, and higher standardized test scores by the time they reached the 3rd grade than their peers who never enrolled in pre-K. From the impact early education has on early brain development to the support it offers to the schedules of working parents, there is a growing consensus that universal early education is a fundamental building block of a fair economy.

By leveraging TIF funds that can be used for child care and dedicating a portion of the equity funding coming from Springfield to this initiative, Susana will help ensure that every Chicago Public Schools student starts kindergarten off on the right foot.

As the parent of a Chicago Public Schools kindergarten student, Susana knows how important it is to have quality pre-K programs that get children ready for kindergarten. With full-day pre-K, parents can have the peace of mind that their children are in healthy learning environments and spend less time arranging child care and transportation for their kids.

Susana will continue the expansion of universal pre-K programming and advocate for a dedicated source of funds from Springfield to support the initiative. Once fully implemented, this program will provide free, quality full-day pre-K to more than 24,000 four-year-olds.

Susana will ensure that principals are evaluated fairly and transparently on the quality of their pre-K programs and the impact these programs have on kindergarten readiness.

Susana will also ensure that pre-K programs are using proven evidence-based programs to tackle racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

3) Enhance Accountability and Credibility

The credibility of the Chicago Public Schools has taken a hit in recent years following a succession of CEOs brought down by ethics scandals. Susana will take decisive steps to restore faith in our school district.

Susana supports an elected school board. This type of local representation gives community members an additional and highly valuable avenue for engaging in the decision-making process. Susana also believes that, as the city’s chief executive, abdicating responsibility for our city’s most valuable asset — its young people — would be a failure of leadership.

That’s why she supports an elected school board that also has mayor-appointed members. This ensures mayors are invested in the success of neighborhood schools, while guaranteeing community members avenues for engagement in public education. Similar models are followed in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore County, Maryland, and adopting the approach in Chicago would make the Board more accountable to residents while ensuring that mayors continue to have skin in the game.

Recent privatization decisions involving school janitors, building engineers, and food service have been met with mixed results.

Susana will undertake a thorough and independent review of all CPS privatization decisions to determine whether management improvements or outright reversals are needed to ensure quality of services for our children.

Susana believes that we need to first prioritize our neighborhood schools and will make sure that the charter schools that exist are held to the same high standards as neighborhood schools.

She will also stand by teachers’ right to organize and collectively bargain in charter schools, just as she stood in solidarity with teachers at Acero charter schools.

4) Focus on Quality

Students must know that no matter what part of Chicago they’re from, they have an equal shot at a quality education. Preparing a student population as diverse as Chicago’s for a lifetime of success requires a broad range of approaches. While methodologies may vary based on student need and interest, there must be one constant across the district: quality.

Susana will ensure that there is a focus on quality programming across the district.

Susana will expand the district’s International Baccalaureate, STEM, and Military high school programs because, with graduation rates above 80% and freshmen on-track rates above 90%, we know these programs work.

Susana will work to ensure that every child in every neighborhood has access to these opportunities.

After transitioning to the longer school day in 2012, a student entering kindergarten now receives nearly 2.5 additional years of instruction by the time they graduate high school. This extra time in a classroom with our world-class teachers is a key driver of student growth.

Susana will maintain a full school day to ensure that the district maintains the momentum of academic improvement of the past few years.

Principal autonomy is one of the distinguishing characteristics of CPS, where principals have more discretion over their budgets and their schools than their suburban peers. According to the Chicago Public Education Fund, the leadership of a principal accounts for 25% of the total school influence on a child’s academic performance.

Over the past decade, CPS has increased principal autonomy over budget, curriculum and schedules, while investing in the retention and pipeline for quality principals through a range of initiatives. Susana knows that to create true community schools, principals need to be given the tools they need to gain the confidence of parents and students.

Access to a quality education doesn’t just mean academic excellence; it also means access to robust sports and arts programs. These programs enrich students’ academic lives, but too often, they’re the first ones on the chopping block. Children in every neighborhood should be able to unlock their own potential through sports and arts programs, and Susana will work to protect those programs in neighborhood schools.

In addition to working within the school system, Susana will work with the Chicago Park District, local professional sports teams, local artists and local musicians to raise additional private funds and ensure that access to these programs is available in all parts of the city.

5) Create a College and Career Culture

A high school diploma is no longer sufficient in today’s economy. Preparing Chicago’s students for the 21st-century economy will require a cultural shift towards a universal expectation that education must continue beyond the 12th grade. As a first-generation college student, Susana knows the impact that access to postsecondary education can have on the trajectory of a student’s life. That’s why Susana will pursue initiatives to increase readiness and access to postsecondary education. These priorities include:

Research clearly shows that high school students who earn postsecondary credit are significantly more likely to graduate and move on to college. CPS has experienced tremendous growth in this area: nearly 47% of 2018 CPS graduates earned college or career credit, up from 31% in 2014.

Susana will set an ambitious goal to ensure that 65% of CPS graduates earn college or career credit by 2025 and make the necessary investments to grow the number of International Baccalaureate schools, expand dual credit and dual enrollment partnerships with the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), increase the number of vocational programs, and expand access to Advanced Placement courses and exams.

While a college degree is increasingly critical to securing a job with a middle-class salary, there are still well-paying jobs that require vocational training short of a four-year diploma. Susana will partner with trade unions to expand vocational training opportunities in CPS high schools and expand the number of students exposed to careers in the trades.

Susana will also build on the success of the Reinvention program at City Colleges of Chicago. The program, which has been recognized by the World Bank as a model workforce development strategy, has established partnerships with dozens of corporations, nonprofits, and other large employers to co-design curricula, offer internships to students, and offer jobs to graduates. As mayor, Susana will seek opportunities for students by focusing on partnerships with employers in fast-growing industries.

Now entering its fourth year, the Chicago Star Scholarship offers free associate degrees to students who graduate from CPS with a B average or better. Significantly, the program is open to Dreamers, who have limited options for obtaining financial aid for postsecondary education. To date, more than 4,500 CPS graduates, representing more than 75 zip codes and more than 200 high schools citywide, have participated in the program. Nearly two dozen four-year universities have partnered with City Colleges of Chicago to provide full and partial tuition scholarships for Star Scholars seeking four-year degrees.

Star Scholars have earned more than $3 million in scholarship offers from City Colleges’ four-year college and university transfer partners. This program has been a remarkable success, helping drive an increase in enrollment and graduation rates at CCC. Susana will work to strengthen and expand the program through additional partnerships and innovative enhancements such as establishing an endowment to support future Star Scholars.