open letter to chicago mayor lightfoot

JARC Defends Racial Equity and Social Inclusion for Returning Citizens in Austin

We teach CNC machining on the west side.

We teach CNC machining on the west side.

I am writing this letter to register our dismay and outrage in response to the unilateral decision of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to terminate its partnership with the Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) and its Careers in Manufacturing Programs in the west side community of Austin. The sudden, forced closure of our manufacturing training and employment program operating out of Austin College and Career Academy (ACCA) torpedoed a well-invested and broadly-supported effort to bring high quality skills training and supportive services to disadvantaged job seekers in a low-income community of color.

In terms of impact, the same-day closure of JARC's Careers in Manufacturing Programs at ACCA was harmful and disrespectful to our trainees, staff and community partners. It was one more broken promise to the Austin community and our partners there. It was another signal of indifference to our employer partners in the manufacturing sector who are seeking to build effective and impactful public­ private partnerships in workforce development.

Pushing JARC's evening program out of ACCA effectively divests the Austin community of $580,000 in targeted support from public and private funding sources. It took one more set of resources out of a vulnerable high school that is worried about closure. And it undercuts the Austin Quality of Life Plan and collective impact goals of the community convener, Austin Coming Together (ACT), and its constituent members.

The impact is and will be bad, but the motivation is even worse. After several weeks of shifting narrative, CPS eventually disclosed its opposition to serving criminal justice system-involved job seekers in JARC's evening program at the ACCA. A communication dated September 27, 2019, from CPS counsel clarified that "CPS will not entertain a lease agreement without a commitment from JARC that only attendees who pass CPS' background checks will participate in JARC programming at CPS schools."

This is, for JARC, a matter of racial equity. Black and Latino individuals are disproportionately policed, arrested, convicted and incarcerated. Justice system involvement then becomes a deep and lasting barrier to equality of opportunity in every aspect of life: employment, housing and homeownership, credit, and - in this scenario - access to publicly-invested skills training.

While JARC concedes that CPS must assess risk and protect students, restricting access to public schools for individuals who have committed drug-related offenses only serves to uphold a legacy of institutional racism that permeates this city.

These events and the rationale of CPS counsel do not align with the stated values of your administration: racial equity and social inclusion, accountability and taking direction from the community, transparency and openness.

Background

JARC helps low income workers, job seekers and community residents attain self -sufficiency through skills training and bundled supportive services. Its Careers in Manufacturing Programs provide job training and placement for a variety of adult populations, including disadvantaged job seekers with criminal justice-involved backgrounds. In recent years, JARC has sought to scale its impact through a variety of strategies including replication, geographic expansion and strategic partners. As it grows, JARC wants to be physically present and relevant for the most distressed communities and the most barriered job seekers.

In 2017, JARC launched a pilot at Austin with partners including ACT, Manufacturing Renaissance/ Manufacturing Connect {MR), and, yes, CPS and the regional Careers to Education {CTE). Funders include the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership (The Partnership), Chicago Community Trust (The Trust), Country Financial, Fry Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (USC), McCormack Foundation, McGowan Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, Weinberg Foundation and Wells Fargo--funders from in­ the-neighborhood to out-of-state and everything in between, all committed to supporting best practice workforce strategies in the Austin community.

The launch event featured high-profile speakers such as Congressman Danny Davis, Aid. Emma Mitts, and The Partnership's CEO Karin Norington-Reaves, as well as the principal partners (JARC, ACT, MR and CPS), and was covered in the press. The following June, ACT recognized JARC as its workforce partner of the year.

Forced Closing

On August 23, 2019 JARC received a certified letter from CPS Counsel Mara Warman advising JARC that its MOU with ACCA was void ab initio, and that it was barred from using the facility and equipment effective immediately. Warman's communication claimed that JARC's occupancy agreement with the high school did not comply with CPS policy, ignoring that that 1) JARC's MOU with ACCA followed the guidance that JARC was given by CPS and CTE at that time, and that the MOU was similar to those of other non-partners working with CPS/ CTE at ACCA and in other schools and 2) that it would have been an easy fix and was no reason to shut down a program, let alone shut it down without any notice or semblance of due process.

Warman's communication ends on a rather cynical note, "In the event the MOU is determined to be valid, this letter also serves as the Board's exercise of its right for termination of the agreement provided for in Section V of the MOU." (Of course, this is not entirely accurate - the MOU actually requires the parties to give advance notice. In JARC's case, staff and trainees were simply booted from the campus like trespassers, not the way to build trust in the Austin community or with your non-profit partners.)

I was able to reach Regional CTE Mike Boraz that day, and made all of these points. I also learned that CTE leadership was additionally concerned that JARC's trainees (adults) were using a CNC machine purchased with funding under Perkins IV. I asked Mr. Boraz to help JARC and ACT obtain a meeting with CPS Counsel which he did.

Not the Real Reasons

JARC and ACT met with CPS Counsel Mara Warman, Regional CTE Chief Mike Boraz and other CPS /CTE staff on September 13, 2019. JARC was prepared to address the ostensible reasons for its eviction from ACCA, including the occupancy agreement and the use of equipment purchased under Perkins IV.

On the question of the occupancy agreement, JARC furnished a copy of its original letter of intent authored by then-Regional CTE Chief Randall Joceryn, which gave JARC access to the manufacturing space, classroom and equipment, and which also stated:

JARC, through the utilization agreement, will be responsible to follow all guidelines outlined by CPS Board policy. The lease agreement will detail a cost to JADC [sic] below market value, because of the educational-related program JADC [sic] will be providing in the community. The cost to cover expenses incurred, including security.

JARC and ACCA signed an occupancy agreement that gave JARC access to the facility and designated equipment to run an evening programs for adults. JARC was not charged rent, but did pay for all "expenses incurred, including security" per Chief Joceryn. The MOU also detailed that JARC would purchase its own tooling and materials and would pay for any damage or maintenance cost incurred by its program which we have also always done.

As for the issue of non-compliance with CPS policy, JARC followed the guidance it received from CTE and CPS at the time, executing an agreement similar that between ACCA and MR. (Incredibly, Ms. Warman lectured us that "ignorance of the law is no excuse.”) In any case, JARC reiterated that it was absolutely eager and willing to sign a lease that was compliant with CPS Real Estate and Purchasing requirements - a practical matter and an easy fix, hardly requiring the eviction of JARC's programs, staff and trainees.

On the question of equipment purchased with Perkins IV, JARC pointed out that Perkins IV was intended to support job training for adults as well as school age children, that it was intended to support post-secondary education and training as well as secondary education and training.

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins IV) is a principal source of federal funding to states and discretionary grantees for the improvement of secondary and postsecondary career and technical education programs across the nation. The purpose of the Act is to develop more fully the academic, career, and technical skills of secondary and postsecondary students who elect to enroll in career and technical education programs.

It's literally the first paragraph of the first page of the legislation. But if there was any doubt or confusion, this passage is immediately followed by a provision known Ed-Flex, which allows US Department of Education to modify or waive restrictions.

The Ed-Flex program allows the Secretary to authorize a State educational agency that serves an eligible State to waive statutory or regulatory requirements applicable to one or more of the included programs for any local educational agency (LEAs), educational service agency or school within the State.

This program permits Ed-Flex States to waive certain requirements under stat e-ad ministered formula grant programs, including the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

CPS could have asked the state ask the feds to modify the grant to explicitly include eligible post ­ secondary training programs if that were actually the concern. JARC's adult training programs are approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and funded by WIOA; we believe such a request would have been routinely and easily granted if that were actually the concern.

Ms. Warman and the grants people did not have any copy of the grant with them and seemed unaware that the original vision included adult job training supported by the Partnership. For stakeholders like The Partnership, supporting post-secondary skills training in community-based hubs (i.e., our schools) was an explicit goal in the first place.

JARC also made the point that the machine was purchased in 2009 and was certainly depreciated; it is highly unlikely that the still allocating costs to that machine in any case. On a related note, we corrected the repeated notion that CPS had paid for repair and maintenance costs incurred by JARC; in fact, it was JARC that had offered to facilitate and pay for needed repairs when CTE red tape and a lack of urgency by CTE led to down time for both the school and evening programs.

Finally, and once more on the question of equipment, we informed the CPS/CTE officers in this meeting that ACCA actually has three CNC machines, not one, and pointed out that JARC could have used other machines (or even purchased its own machine) until there was resolution on this question. But, again, we failed to see how this justified shutting down our program and treating our trainees and our partners with such disrespect.

It was striking that the CPS/CTE folks came to the meeting lacking any documents - a draft lease agreement, inventory of their machines, the grant agreement, any materials relating to Perkins, etc. They seemed to lack any background or any sense of urgency and resisted any effort to establish a to-do list and timeline for resolving what appeared to be a finite set of issues. In short, the basis for JARC's eviction began to appear rather spurious.

A Matter of Racial Equity

And it was. Ms. Warman now raised safety concerns stemming from JARC's work with re-entry folks. The barrier to a lease, she said, was that JARC does not perform background checks on program participants. JARC chooses to work with barriered job seekers as a function of its mission because it is committed to social inclusion and racial equity. (Moreover, JARC has a proven track of working with re-entry folks; in multiple studies, JARC's ex-offender trainees have higher rates for completion, placement and retention than do trainees without a criminal background.)

That said, JARC has no interest in enrolling sex offenders and child abusers in its programs either. So, we asked, "what is it that the CPS is looking for in a background check?" Simply barring candidates for training on the basis of arrests or convictions is for JARC an elementary question of racial equity, especially in Austin and other low-income communities of color. The CPS did not bring the list to the meeting, so Ms. Warman agreed to send it to us.

We can stipulate that The Enumerated Offenses in Illinois School Code (105 ILCS) includes numerous offenses that would preclude an individual's ability to enroll at JARC. For example, JARC would not enroll sex offenders or child abusers at ACCA or anywhere else.

But the list also includes a litany of drug offenses that are very common in low-income communities of color and communities that are struggling with street gangs, like Austin.
• Any offense defined in the Cannabis Control Act, except those defined in Sections 4(a), 4(b), 4(c), S(a) and S(b) and any offense for which an individual receives Section 10 probation [successfully completed] ... [Additionally] ... offenses under the Cannabis Control Act are enumerated for seven (7) years following the end of the sentence for criminal offense.
• Any offense defined in the Illinois Controlled Substance Act, except any offense for which an individual receives Section 410 probation [successfully completed] ... [Additionally] ... offenses under the Illinois Controlled Substance Act are enumerated for seven (7) years following the end of the sentence for criminal offense.
• Any offense defined in Section 401.1, 405.1, or 405.2 of the Illinois Controlled Substance Act [focusing on street gang/ criminal conspiracy/ trafficking] ... enumerated for ten years.
• Any offense defined in the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection except any offense for which an individual receives Section 70 probation [successfully completed] ... [Additionally] ... offenses under the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act are enumerated for seven (7) years following the end of the sentence for criminal offense.

Ironically, cannabis is now legal. So, as we all celebrate the new marijuana entrepreneurs, generations of Black and Latinx residents have had their lives and their life chances ruined. Where is the racial equity in that? Austin residents with cannabis and other drug-related offenses remain persona non grata, too dangerous to enter a public school - after hours, no less - to participate in a publicly-invested training program. We say to the CPS: these are your parents, your graduates and your dropouts.

We should acknowledge that the list also includes Class X Felonies, writ large. Stipulating to sexual offenses and crimes against children, we otherwise oppose the blanket policy of excluding anyone with a Class X Felony in their background from the standpoint of racial equity. Consider the following:
• About 2/3 of inmates at Cook County Jail are Black. Over half of those admitted into the jail are from majority Black neighborhoods, with 1 in 3 coming from the South Side and 1 in 5 coming from the West Side.
• In 2005-2009, Austin had the highest conviction rate of all Community Areas. During that period, Austin experienced 131 convictions per 1,000 residents with a total of 12,998.
• Austin ranks 11th among all 77 Chicago Communities in violent crimes.
• Austin ZIP codes 60644 and 60651 rank 5th and 6th respectively for number of returning citizens out of prisons.

Again, JARC has many compelling success stories involving trainees who overcame heavy felony convictions and made a U turn; we would be happy to share some of these stories and data with you. On the other hand, it is important to note that lack of opportunity and life chances are the greatest predictor of recidivism - an important point as we debate safety in our communities and in our schools.

In summary, it is as if the CPS was unaware of the national conversations surrounding racial profiling, mass incarceration and restorative justice. Just to be sure, we questioned whether the CPS intended to literally ban any adult from the campus with any conviction on this list. CPS Counsel replied, "CPS will require all trainees and trainers who access CPS schools to pass background checks."

Your Honor, you campaigned on a message that the city would vet every decision and policy through the lens of social inclusion and racial equity. Your administration has likewise claimed that it would be taking direction from the community, that new directions in policy and programs would be discussed and developed with input from community leaders. Your administration has stated a commitment to transparency and openness.

The forced closure of JARC's evening program at ACCA does not align with the narrative of your campaign and your new administration.

In closing, we further protest the subsequent closure of Manufacturing Connect and Friends of the Children, two wonderful programs that were valued by parents, students and community of Austin. Our public schools are, and should be, community resources - opportunity hubs where community residents can come together and thrive.

Guy Loudon, JARC President