Claypool going to Springfield to press for school funding changes

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said Thursday he’ll go to Springfield next week to pressure lawmakers to pass major changes to the school funding formula, and he asked parents at a West Side rally to join him.

“You’re all part of the fight here today . . . because more than ever before in the history of Chicago Public Schools, you need to be their voices,” he told a few hundred people rallying inside the Douglas Park fieldhouse.

Claypool said he and leaders of high-poverty districts around the state plan to converge on the state capital on May 26. On Thursday, 15 of them sent a letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner asking him to reconsider his education funding plan that takes money away from low-income districts while giving more to wealthy districts.

“Without this fix, our districts will be forced to take drastic steps in coming weeks as we plan our budgets for the fall,” including 26 percent cuts on average at CPS schools, they wrote. “We hope that in the brief time that remains for the General Assembly to pass a budget, you dedicate your administration’s attention to fixing the formula, not toward maintaining one that is widely accepted to be the worst in the nation.”

Meanwhile, 13 state representatives asked Claypool for an emergency meeting to discuss the proposed cuts to their schools.

“We are committed to working together to advocate for additional funding for CPS schools and to bring stability to our neighborhood schools and the students and families they serve,” the lawmakers who represent Chicago districts wrote, adding that they’ve had a hard time passing any funding measures while the governor insists on his “turnaround agenda” reforms.

But the district’s “20 for 20” campaign to get 20 percent of state funding because CPS enrolls 20 percent of schoolchildren, is oversimplified and “a great slogan, but it’s not a solution,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Logan Square).

The governor’s office sent a statement saying, “We need to work on a bipartisan compromise to reform Illinois’ school funding formula and ensure equity and adequacy for all students in Illinois.”

As Claypool gathers his wide base of support to press the stalled Legislature, he apparently also has encompassed not only superintendents from other high-poverty school districts around the state but also the education reform community to seek more funding from the state. The rally, followed by a barbecue lunch, was hosted by Stand for Children — an Oregon-based reform group Rauner helped bring to Illinois several years ago — and featured an impassioned principal from a CPS school run by the private Academy for Urban School Leadership.

Herzl School of Excellence is slated to lose about $800,000 if no help arrives, Principal Tamara Davis told the crowd, leaving her with terrible choices. “Any of these consequences are intolerable, they’re intolerable,” she said. “It’s not fair that I have to decide which critical component I have to eliminate from my school.”

Diners were urged to sign petitions awaiting them in the lunchroom. The petition read: “I support fair funding for all Illinois schools. . . . For decades, this unfair system has shortchanged children in every part of Illinois of the great education they deserve.”

Claypool downplayed the venue — hosted by a coalition Stand for Children organized with other groups and school districts called “Our Students Our Future” — saying he has been speaking everywhere he’s been invited and has recently addressed crowds on the Far Northwest and Far Southwest sides and described those standing with him as a “broad coalition that’s fighting this fight.”

The Chicago Teachers Union said they have had members in Springfield talking to legislators all spring, but have not been invited to join CPS next week.

“Our lobbying efforts are ongoing and persistent,” said Stacy Davis-Gates, the union’s legislative director. She added that the CTU also is talking to aldermen about city solutions to plug whatever remains of the $1.1 billion budget gap even after Springfield acts.

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