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CPS warns full charter school funding not coming in July

As Chicago Public Schools pleads with the state for more revenue for its schools, it warned charter and contract schools on Wednesday that their first-quarter payment would be split up over the summer instead of coming in July as planned.

“As you know, CPS faces daunting financial challenges and cash flow constraints due to the delay and lack of state funding,” read the memo to all of the private managers of publicly funded schools. “As a result of this uncertainty, CPS will not be able to fund” the first quarter payments to those schools expected in full in July.

Instead, three installments of district tuition and state funding for poor children will be made in July, August and September, CPS official Mary K. Bradley wrote in the memo obtained late Wednesday by the Sun-Times.

Earlier Wednesday, parents, teachers and students from a number of Chicago’s charter schools had warned the Board of Education that they’re running out of time financially before classes are supposed to begin.

“Noble will open in August,” said recent Chicago Bulls College Prep alumnus Charles Hamer. “We need a solution before then.”

That’s the rub for charter schools, who, unlike CPS students who report after Labor Day, resume as early as August 10.

CPS says it’s broke and has been leaning on Springfield for a solution to its pension problem. The district has been scraping cash together to make a $676 million pension payment due next week and won’t get property tax revenue until August. It has warned that steep budget cuts would take effect by September without additional funding. But state leaders have long been deadlocked. Democratic proposals haven’t passed both houses in the General Assembly, and measures backed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner would hold CPS funding steady without any increases.

A CPS spokeswoman said the first payment — about a third of the first quarter total — will be made July 22, and the dates for the remaining two payments will depend on state funding.

“After CPS makes a nearly $700 million teacher pension payment that no other District in the state has to make because their teacher pensions are funded by the state, our cash will be at its lowest point,” said spokeswoman Emily Bittner. “We are working to conserve as much cash as possible to meet our operational needs over the summer, and we continue to urge Governor Rauner to sign an education budget that fully and equitably funds our schools.”

Charter school operators say there is no time to spare.

“The first quarter payment is now three weeks away,” Andrew Broy, who heads the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, told the board. “If that is delayed or diminished, charter public schools will not be able to open on time. That’s 61,000 students potentially affected.”

Broy said Wednesday evening that the delay would “exacerbate cash flow problems for schools.”

The district has warned of cuts to per-pupil funding across the board of about 40 percent over last year’s levels, though federal and state funding for poor children could mitigate some of that pain. If those cuts go through, they could prove fatal to dozens of Chicago’s 130 charters, INCS has said.

CPS has not yet said when its own schools will receive their budgets.

One Humboldt Park elementary school, Galapagos Charter School, has already announced it will not reopen in the fallbecause its finances can’t weather the budget impasse.

Chicago Public Schools memo on first-quarter payments by Bill Ruminski