When Chicago Public Schools just put a freeze on half of every school’s remaining discretionary money to save $46 million, CEO Forrest Claypool blamed Gov. Bruce Rauner for the cuts, saying he has no regard for the city’s impoverished black and brown children.
Claypool even filed a lawsuit last week, accusing Rauner of violating the civil rights of the minority children who make up nine of 10 CPS students by giving them less funding than their mostly white counterparts elsewhere in the state.
But it turns out that the way Claypool decided to cut school budgets this time — by freezing the rest of every principal’s discretionary money — has hurt majority Hispanic schools at twice the rate of schools serving mostly white children, and cut poor schools at twice the rate of wealthier ones.
Schools with at least 51 percent Hispanic students saw 1.8 percent of their total budgets frozen, on average — that’s about twice the average rate of 0.9 percent frozen at schools with at least 51 percent of white students, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of the freezes.
The schools that lost the highest percentage of their remaining spending power — 1.8 percent on average — also serve the very poorest children, where nine out of 10 students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch that is shorthand for school poverty. And schools where three out of four kids are poor lost 1.7 percent of their money; that’s roughly double the percentage 0.8 percent — that was lost by schools where just one of four kids is poor.
Schools that are both poor and Hispanic bore the worst of the cuts.
“Knowing that the budget cuts are from Latino communities, and we are the ones to pay for things — that actually kinds of makes me sad,” said Jesus Sanchez, a 16-year old sophomore at Hancock College Prep High School. “Obviously, our community is struggling, trying to get on top. Knowing there’s people trying to stop us from reaching our goals and trying to be better than our parents — because they didn’t have the privileges we have, makes me want to cry.”
Maria Martinez, 15, who also serves on Hancock’s student council, spoke bluntly.
“It’s basically racism,” she said. Hancock stands to lose $167,000 — or a little more than 2 percent of its original budget. The school already didn’t have enough toilet paper, she said.
CPS denied targeting poor students when it froze the money from district, state and federal sources.
“Governor Rauner’s cut forced agonizing choices, including whether to lay off teachers or allow an uneven distribution of cuts from unspent funds,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. “We chose to protect teachers. As a result of Governor Rauner’s abrupt and admittedly ‘emotional’ veto, his cut hurts the students who need funding the most but they are less painful than the other options we have available.”
Claypool told principals earlier this week that those options are to lay off teachers or cut days from the end of the school year — or both, Prussing Elementary School’s principal told his local school council members.
Bittner referred to Rauner’s veto of a bill in December that would have allocated $215 million for teacher pensions that CPS was counting on. The governor said lawmakers didn’t meet the agreed-upon conditions for the money. His office has said that CPS’ longstanding financial woes have led to its budget crisis.
Last year, while CPS waited in vain for $480 million from the state and imposed midyear budget cuts on schools, district officials cut across the board and then used state and federal money for poor children to backfill at low-income schools.
That money was a one-time stash that CPS moved from centrally funded programs out to schools, Bittner said, so it’s no longer an option.
Schools serving low-income students rely almost exclusively on funding sources CPS controls. They receive more money per pupil from state and federal funds aimed at helping poor kids, who need more resources than their higher income peers to be successful, but cannot raise much money they would be able to control in-house.
Wealthier schools in popular neighborhoods lease out their buildings or their parking lots; charge student fees each year, or ask parent-led fundraising groups to pitch in.
Savvy and experienced principals allocate the CPS money first, mostly for staff, and then use remaining money to fill in the rest, like the supplies or after-school programs now being cut at poorer schools.
Principals at several high-poverty schools said they put some money aside to keep paying hourly employees who monitor recess and lunch or after-school workers, so it looked like they had more just lying around than they actually do.
“Budget freezes punish principals who properly fund their schools and properly budget, and punish those in high-need schools,” said one, who didn’t have the press office’s permission to speak. That principal did order supplies for the entire year but cannot pay workers until the work has been completed.
Darwin Elementary School in the Logan Square community, where 81 percent of students are poor and 86 percent Hispanic, is losing aides who provide extra reading and math help, and some who supervise recess, Local School Council member Jeff Young said.
“It’s a cut — despite the fact that CPS calls it a freeze — because we can’t spend that money,” he said, characterizing the racial dynamic of the freezes as “disgusting.”
The schools that saw the lowest freezes — both in percentages and in raw numbers — are fairly well-off: Hamilton Elementary and Hawthorne Elementary, where only about one in five kids are considered poor. Both were among the 47 schools that lost less than half of 1 percent of their original budgets.
The lack of budget consistency has affected all schools.
“Because of budget impacts several years in a row and midyear adjustments, it’s really difficult to budget beyond a couple of months at a time,” Hawthorne principal Nathaniel Pietrini said. “I used to budget for textbook purchases to be made in the spring so we could have them at the start of the new year. I no longer build my budget that way.”