Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, and the Board of Education have moved to require Chicago high schoolers to have evidence of post-graduation plans in order to receive their diploma. Starting with the class of 2020, high schoolers must have proof of educational, employment, or military plans upon completion of the twelfth grade or forfeit their diploma. However, many have pushed against this requirement, arguing that Chicago public schools lack the resources to make this requirement achievable, especially with the recent $200 million budget cut to education. Emanuel failed to address the lack of counselors to prepare students for post-graduation and the socioeconomic problems that contribute to failing schools.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Emanuel declared “If you change expectations, it’s not hard for kids to adapt.” But what are those expectations? How many people will be incentivized to make post-graduation plans? How many will have the resources to secure those opportunities? And who is most at risk of failing to meet this new requirement?
It is no secret that the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Economic Policy Institute have pointed out Illinois as the state with the highest black unemployment rate. According to a report by the Illinois Policy Institute, “Illinois’ weak job creation has a significant effect on the black community, especially due to manufacturing job losses in the Chicago area and a lack of construction job opportunities.” How can a requirement without a foundation for job creation have success? Over multiple reports, it seems that a lack of job creation, high black unemployment rates, and a large black incarceration population have gone hand in hand.
The Vera Institute of Justice published a plethora of data on incarceration nationwide. Their latest data illustrates that in Cook County, African Americans were significantly overrepresented in prisons from 1990 to 2014. Although African Americans in 2014 only made up 23.7% of the county population, they made up 70.3% of the prison population. If students must be required to foster proof of post-educational plans, but there is minimal job creation, where does that leave them?
Of course some will go to college, and even more may attend with this new requirement, but with the rising cost of higher education despite it already being too expensive, blacks and Latinos will be hurt the most. By increasing black and Latino debt through loans for higher education, they will have an even harder time accumulating wealth. According to “The Racial Wealth Divide in Chicago” a report published by Prosperity Now (formerly CFED), 67% of black and 71% of Latino Chicagoans are liquid asset poor compared to 36% for Asians and 28% for whites; 33% of black and 27% of Latino households have zero net worth compared to 14% for Asians and 15% for whites; and although blacks and Latinos were the most cost-burdened renters, they had the lowest median household income.
Now if students must be required to have employment plans, but there are no jobs, or educational plans, but they have minimal assets and income, then that only leaves three options: assume large amounts of debt owed to the government and corporations, go to the military in a time of internationally-recognized political uncertainty, or leave high school without a diploma knowing that incarceration rates among high school dropouts, especially black men, is significantly higher. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel was President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, his policies fall in line with Betsy Devos’ policies to deregulate for-profit universities that have defrauded students. It also falls in line with Jeff Session’s push to maintain private prisons. Pay close attention to how this new requirement changes Chicago, the city that had no mercy for Donald Trump and is losing patience for Rahm Emanuel.
Xavier Buck is a Ph.D. student in history at the University of California Berkeley.