The Hyde Park–Kenwood Community Action Council (HPKCAC) is distributing more than 500 books to local elementary schools, the group announced during a virtual meeting Wednesday.
HPKCAC chair Katie Gruber said the council spent $2,600 in funding from CPS’s Office of Family and Community Engagement on the books. The council partnered with My Very Own Library, a program housed at the University of Chicago that promotes childhood literacy.
The 520 books they bought — which include “Hair Love,” based on an Oscar-winning short film, and “Bear Can’t Sleep” — were distributed to three of the primary schools in the council’s coverage area with the highest percentage of low-income students: Ariel Community Academy, Reavis Elementary School, and Kozminski Community Academy.
“There have been a few wrinkles, but we do know that the books made it to Ariel, and we’re still working out the details at Reavis and Kozminski,” said Gruber.
The meeting also included a presentation from Caroline Bilicki, a representative from the nonprofit advocacy group Illinois Families for Public Schools, on the graduated income tax amendment on the ballot this November. The amendment, which requires 60% approval to pass, would raise taxes on those earning more than $250,000.
At the meeting, Bilicki tied the proposal to inequities in school funding, noting that Illinois ranks below the national average in terms of how much funding for a given school district comes from the state. Instead, the majority of funding for each district comes from local sources, predominantly property tax revenue.
“Why this is the problem is that the poorest communities have the least ability to raise revenue to cover costs for the students with the greatest needs, and communities with greater resources are able to spend more per student,” said Bilicki.
In July, members of the HPKCAC met with CPS CEO Janice Jackson in July. Among other topics, Gruber said that the group had asked Jackson questions about a policy that would allow principals at schools with pre-kindergarten to let children into those programs if they already have siblings attending the school.
“What we’re asking is for a principal to be able to say, ‘Hey, let’s give a seat or two to so-and-so’s little brother or sister,’ ” said Gruber. “Start them at the school, one drop-off for families — it’s just good for everybody.”
The council also asked Jackson about instituting a better screening program for dyslexia, reopening plans, and possibly redefining what constitutes a high-quality seat in order to deemphasize test scores.
One other issue that came up at Wednesday’s meeting was the problem of access for students to remote learning. One member noted that at Reavis, some parents were no longer able to pay for internet service because they had lost their jobs.
Carl Hurdlik, a community liaison from CPS, noted that the city launched an initiative in June to provide 100,000 CPS students with free internet. This Tuesday, the district announced that 18,000 students already had signed up for the program.
“We’ve just partnered with different community organizations to help us with phone calls or going door-to-door,” said Hurdlik. “It’s a good start, but clearly we’ve got work to do to make remote learning as successful as possible.”
For more information on the free internet initiative, visit cps.edu/chicagoconnected.