Campaign To End Overcrowding

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has historically faced severe academic overcrowding in neighborhoods with a growing Hispanic population. A 2009 UNO study revealed a need for 16,552 new elementary school seats, equivalent to 28 new elementary schools in Chicago to ease overcrowding, much of which is in Hispanic neighborhoods.

Academic overcrowding is not a new phenomenon. It dates back more than three decades.

The 1970s saw limited construction of new schools and the near financial collapse of the Chicago Public School system. The financial conditions precluded, until 1995, any significant capital outlay for new public school construction in Chicago. Meanwhile, overcrowding was becoming a problem in some African-American communities and in areas with growing Hispanic populations, such as South Chicago, the Lower West Side (Pilsen), Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and West Town, among others. As the Hispanic population continued to grow, school overcrowding expanded southwest and northwest.

In 1995, Mayor Daley took control of the Chicago Public Schools. One of the major initiatives undertaken by his administration was the most comprehensive school construction capital program in the history of the Chicago Public Schools, launched to address the need to build new schools in overcrowded areas, to replace old and obsolete facilities, and to repair and renovate existing facilities after years of neglect.

Hispanics are the fastest growing minority population in the country. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Hispanics now account for more than 15% of the U.S. population, up from 12.6% in 2000. In the six-county Chicago region, the Hispanic population quadrupled from 5% in 1970 to 20% in 2004, and is projected to grow to 39% by 2030. This rapid rate of growth is fueled by both immigration and a higher birth rate among Hispanics. Of the 1.5 million Hispanics currently in the Chicago region, slightly more than half were born in the United States.

Chicago-area Hispanics are about evenly divided between the City of Chicago and the suburbs. Within the City, communities on the far northwest side and on the southwest side have experienced the highest population growth. Looking specifically at school enrollments in the Chicago area, the city gained 204,000 Hispanic students during the 1990s, according to data published by Chicago State University. This number was nearly matched by a gain of 163,000 Hispanic students in suburban Cook County over the same period. Altogether, there was an increase of 547,708 Hispanic students in the Chicago area between 1990 and 2000, of which nearly 63% occurred in the suburbs.

The CPS system is having difficulty meeting the needs of the growing Hispanic population. Schools in fast-growing communities on the northwest and southwest sides, in particular, are experiencing overcrowding, staggered scheduling and unavoidable busing. On Chicago’s southwest side, for example, the total number of K-8 public school students in October 2006 was 22,701, well above building capacity of 13,854. In the future, school districts in Chicago’s suburbs are likely to face similar challenges accommodating the growing number of Hispanic students.

Figures from the study are based on school enrollment and capacity data provided by the Department of School Demographics and from Chicago Public Schools’ 2009 Racial-Ethnic Survey. For more information visit www.endschoolovercrowding.org