CPS budgeting enough money so schools can maintain current staffing levels

SHARE CPS budgeting enough money so schools can maintain current staffing levels

Chicago Public Schools headquarters. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Public Schools principals were receiving budgets Tuesday for individual schools that include increases for teacher raises, allowing school leaders to maintain steady staffing levels.

Schools officials said the budgets include a 2.5 percent increase in base per-pupil funding for the next school year — the same percentage mandated by CPS’ contract with the Chicago Teachers Union.

That means schools will get $4,705 for each child enrolled in kindergarten through third grade, $4,397 for fourth- through eighth-graders and $5,452 for each high schooler.

The $3.1 billion in budgets are being released unusually early for CPS, which in recent years didn’t give numbers to principals until deep into the summer as officials scrambled to find money they had counted on from Springfield. Lawmakers finally approved a new evidence-based state school funding formula that benefits Chicago’s schools.

Tasked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel with stabilizing the school system that’s been losing students as two former CEOs were forced out in scandal, CEO Janice Jackson pushed for the early release of the first budget she’s overseen, so principals and families could plan. She has also said that schools won’t see any cuts in the fall to staff or budgets, even if their enrollments dip because next year’s budgets are based on the current school year’s official count taken last fall.

Her budget announcement came a day after a leading credit ratings agency said it might upgrade the junk-level status of CPS’ debt thanks partly that increase in state funding.

Funding for low-income students will rise 6 percent — raising the rate for state aid for poor children from $857 to $910 per student, CPS said.

“This is a budget about stability as we’re going into the school year,” Jackson said from the Colman administrative building where principals were discussing their figures with central office experts. “So to me it was critically important not only to maintain what people had last year but also to provide some additional resources in areas like special education and under-enrolled schools.”

Schools that are experiencing sharp enrollment drops will get extra money to bolster academic offerings, even though CPS budgets are tied to enrollment, and the number of students citywide continues to fall. That’s now a quarter of CPS’ schools — about 129 of the 514 the district directly operates, who will share a $10 million “Small Schools Fund.”

Still, Jackson defended the “student-based budgeting” model that critics have likened to a “Hunger Games” level of competition for students, calling it the “most equitable approach” to doling out money.

But schools that would otherwise lose more than 3 percent of base funding this year also have access to an additional $5 million “to help ensure that significant enrollment declines do not result in dramatic funding changes at any school.” And a drop in low-income students means schools citywide will lose about $16 million in federal Title I and Title II money for pool kids.

CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said what CPS’ improved financial position “means is instead of having a school district that’s teetering on the brink of insolvency, we finally have a school district that can make some financial plans, start taking a good luck at student needs and what we need to do to make the school district run properly.”

But he warned that this year’s flat budget — only about $50 more per student — wouldn’t compensate for years of cuts.

“There’s a lot of deferred maintenance, the roof has been leaking, crack in the basement — the house of CPS has some stuff it needs to do in order to be on solid ground going forward,” he said. “The district can try to have some new fancy-sounding initiatives about IB or STEM or classical schools or whatnot, but at the end of the day, people’s regular experience at CPS is dominated by kids in schools with a skeleton staff.”

Charter schools — privately run but government-funded — will see the same 2.5 percent increase in per-pupil funding — or about $9 million more than last year, an increase the Illinois Network of Charter Schools said “will be felt in classrooms across the city and will positively impact more than 57,000 students.”

Schools that grow will see more money, and special education positions will be allocated based on student need, a change from the past few years when principals were handed a lump sum, often criticized as inadequate, and told to make do. Special education funding will go up by about $29 million, CPS said.

But neither charter school specifics nor the number of special education positions were clear Tuesday because CPS wouldn’t immediately release school-by-school figures.

RELATED: CPS to principals: No cuts to schools in fall even if enrollment drops, March 7, 2018

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