Admitting ‘flawed’ formula, CPS restores nearly 150 special ed positions

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After considering principal appeals about special education cuts, Chicago Public Schools has restored almost 150 special education positions systemwide.

About 120 of those added positions are teachers, and the rest are classroom aides to 423 schools that still receive positions from the central office. An additional 94 schools receive a set amount of money per special education student under CPS’ “All Means All,” and of the 19 that also participated last year, lost about $1.1 million net overall.

CPS said it based special ed positions on a “flawed funding formula” in late September and since has corrected the errors to make sure every child with an Individualized Education Program gets the services guaranteed to them under federal law. Following vociferous complaints from teachers and parents about shortages and cuts made for the first time ever after school began, CPS agreed to hear appeals and has begun notifying schools of the changes, the district announced Wednesday.

Some had accused CPS of trying to balance its budget on the backs of special education students. Cuts announced in the summer for special education services had totaled about $42 million for the district still searching for $480 million to balance its books. But recent restorations bring that figure closer to $32 million, according to Access Living, the disabilities rights group.

Meanwhile, Markay Winston, CPS’ special ed chief, resigned suddenly in October and a permanent replacement has not yet been found. CPS would not make anyone available for an interview on Wednesday.

In a press release, CEO Forrest Claypool said, “We recognize this process has been challenging for some of our families and school leaders, and we are committed to implementing an improved, bottom-up process for next school year that will allow principals to play a more robust role in determining how to meet their students’ needs.”

Twenty schools received at least five additional positions; 19 lost at least five.

Vaughn Occupational High School, a high school on the Northwest Side that serves only special education students, ultimately lost 9.6 total, more than any other school, after getting some restored. And Beard Elementary School, with a population that is more than 75 percent special education, lost the most funding, about $1 million.

Josh Radinsky, a Vaughn parent and Local School Council member, said Claypool’s admission was the first time the district acknowledged something was wrong.

“How can you be off by 150 positions?” he wondered.

He said Vaughn’s principal made a very strong case with lots of documentation to back up students’ needs — and feared not all school leaders had the skills or time to do so.

“It’s more than saying good news, we got positions back. It’s revealing the depth of the problem here,” Radinsky continued. “No matter your budget, you can’t break the law.”

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