Chicago Public Schools classrooms may see budget cuts despite city’s promises to maintain funding

Chicago Public Schools leaders’ hopes of averting an approximately $400 million deficit were dashed over the weekend, when the Illinois Senate approved a state spending plan without additional funds that the state’s largest school district, alongside Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and the Chicago Teachers Union, has sought over the past year.

But despite a “challenging financial year” ahead, CEO Pedro Martinez said at a media briefing Tuesday that CPS will maintain, if not increase, the total amount of funding provided to schools in the coming school year – which officials said will begin with more teachers, restorative justice coordinators and special education classroom assistants on staff than at the start of last school year.

The district aims to cover the shortfall by slashing central office and vendor costs, to not only keep cuts from classrooms but also establish a “foundational standard” that ensures minimum numbers and ratios of support staff and teachers at every school, in core subjects as well as the arts and athletics.

“We are starting with equity, not enrollment. This is the first year that we are ensuring that every school has a standard set of resources and positions and then building on that for schools of higher need and higher enrollment,” said Chief Budget Officer Mike Sitkowski, adding that every school will have “the resources they need to have strong, vibrant and healthy school communities.”

But, CPS’ projected deficit doesn’t account for costs associated with a new four-year agreement with Service Employees International Union Local 73, which provides CPS support staff 4% raises, nor a new Chicago Teachers Union contract, after the current agreement expires in June. Martinez didn’t offer an estimated cost of a new CTU contract when asked Tuesday. “I’m going to be optimistic that we’re going to come to some reasonable conclusions,” he said.

The district’s new strategy for allocating funds – reflecting a Board vote in December to shift emphasis to neighborhood schools – also has its discontents. Parents from several schools have raised concerns that in effort to increase equity, CPS has taken resources from some communities in need, to be redistributed to others. This year, 90%, the same number of Local School Councils as last year, approved their school budgets, said Deputy Chief of Schools William Klee.

Martinez has repeatedly said that under the new model, no one school type will experience “disproportionate cuts”, a sentiment recently echoed by Mayor Brandon Johnson, in requesting that the Illinois Senate not call a now-quashed bill that would have enshrined protections for selective enrollment schools.

At the briefing Tuesday, officials did not answer a question on the total number of schools facing cuts, nor the average funding increase or decrease among schools or how CPS has ensured no cuts are disproportionate. Martinez cited the overhauled funding formula as the reason those figures weren’t available.

He also attributed a “pattern” of concerns regarding the new model, raised at public meetings, to a “handful” of schools that have historically had rich programming and low poverty rates, and therefore had low Opportunity Index scores. The district uses the index, which includes a school’s percentage of vulnerable students and community characteristics, including poverty and historical funding, to allocate funding to schools based on students’ needs. Martinez said the district will work with schools facing cuts to ensure reasonable class sizes.

“In the meantime, hundreds of schools who never had what I would consider minimal electives – at least a PE, at least an art…or another enrichment program – that is really what’s being addressed in this budget,” Martinez said.

Orozco Academy Local School Council chair and parent Erica Montenegro said concerns over a class size of at least 36 students remain at the Lower West Side bilingual gifted school as a result of a “significant” loss of funds. “What’s been communicated to the public is one thing, but what we’re feeling and the actual budget, and as a consequence within our programming and the number of teachers that we’re able to have, is another,” she said.

At the Board of Education meeting Thursday, parents from two dual-language magnet schools said each school has seen multiple teaching positions cut. Students who travel from across the city to attend Sabin Dual Language Magnet School and LaSalle Language Academy are often economically disadvantaged, members of each school community said. And with an ongoing influx of migrant students, enrollment at Sabin is up by more than 100 students from last year, said parent and Local School Council chair Cheryl Conner.

Of eight dual language teachers at LaSalle, parent Joanna Evans said seven positions, 88%, have been cut. “To me, 88% is disproportionate,” she said. In striving to increase equity, CPS’ funding model has “shortchanged” some students, said LaSalle teacher Doris Torres. “The formula is supposed to bring about equitable change…however, equity is not achieved by taking from one unprivileged student to another,” she said.

In a district press release Tuesday, two principals voiced support for CPS’ new model. At Charles H. Wacker Elementary, Principal Kathy Panagakis wrote that as a result of the new model, she’ll have enough teachers to fully staff each grade level for the first time this year and won’t be required to spend discretionary funds to provide art, music and foreign language programs. “Small neighborhood schools finally feel seen and heard after a long period of facing constrained budgets that compromised their financial ability to meet all of their students’ needs,” Panagakis said in the release.

“This is an intentional effort to start at ground zero and provide a universal set of resources for all schools,” wrote Cardenas Elementary Principal Jeremy Feiwell, whom CPS said is experiencing a discretionary funding decrease this year.

“Some school budgets will get tighter next year,” Martinez said at the Tuesday briefing. “It’s worth reminding everyone that our district is not fully funded by the state,” he added.

With federal COVID-19 relief funds that buoyed the district in recent years expiring in September, the district, Johnson and CTU have argued the state should fulfill the promise of a 2017 state law, known as Evidence-Based Funding or EBF, which pledged to provide all public schools enough state funding by 2027 to implement proven best practices, such as class sizes associated with the best academic outcomes by grade level.

But the state spending plan approved by the Illinois Senate over the weekend includes only the minimum annual statewide K-12 funding increase of $350 million mandated by the 2017 reform. At that rate, the state won’t achieve adequate funding for all schools for another decade, according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank.

CPS currently receives around 80% of the total funding that the state’s formula determines is needed, resulting in an approximately $1.1 billion gap, according to Illinois State Board of Education data.

“I’m disappointed that we’re not seeing enough funding to meet the growing needs that we have in our district. This is something that’s not going away,” Martinez said Tuesday.

The district will post its entire budget online June 12, ahead of a Board of Education vote on its approval later that month. The CPS total budget last year was $9.4 billion.

Source link

Leave a Comment