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Photo by: John Konstantaras/Chicago News Cooperative

A sweeping public school reform bill unanimously approved late Thursday by the State Senate gives Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel a chance to fulfill a campaign promise and lengthen Chicago’s school day, currently one of the shortest in the nation. But first he will have to overcome daunting budget, educational and labor obstacles.

Chicago would be the first major city in recent years to add substantial time to its school day, which currently clocks in at 5 hours 45 minutes for elementary schools and 6 hours for high schools. Chicago students spend 270 hours less in the classroom every year than students in New York City schools, or about 41 fewer days.

On Friday morning, in an appearance at the Johnson College Prep charter school, Mr. Emanuel applauded the legislation enabling a longer school day. “Everybody around the country is now looking at this as a role model,” he said.

The legislation resulted from three months of intense negotiation among lawmakers and key players in education from throughout the state. Important questions remain, however, including how much additional classroom time there will be, how it should be used, and how to pay for it.

The bill gives the Chicago Public Schools administration the power to unilaterally decide the length of its day and year, but the details of carrying out the decision will have to be ironed out in bargaining with the powerful Chicago Teachers Union.

If the Chicago Public Schools add one hour each day and an additional day to the school year, it would cost roughly $300 million, according to the most recent estimate by the district. The district said it now faces an $820 million deficit.

Karen Lewis, president of the teachers union, acknowledged the deficit but not the district’s claims of its severity. “I don’t believe those numbers,” she said. (more)

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Article by REBECCA VEVEA, New York Times | Read full article here