School board OKs $7.7 billion budget, largest in history

Among the features of this year’s budget is $31 million in “equity grants” that will go to 219 schools with low or declining enrollments.

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The Chicago Board of Education holds a meeting at the Chicago Public School headquarters on August 28, 2019.

Pat Nabong/For The Sun-Times

Chicago’s school board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the district’s proposed budget and capital plan for the new school year.

The passing of the operational budget and the special projects plan came despite wide-ranging concerns by groups including the teachers union, disability advocates, students and parents.

The board spent about half an hour asking questions about the budget after the school district’s presentation. That came after the board peppered administrators with questions at a pair of public hearings on the budget last week.

The Chicago Teachers Union held a news conference in the morning outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters asking the school board to vote down the budget.

“A budget is a statement of priorities,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “Right now the promises that Mayor [Lori] Lightfoot is making in her speeches don’t match the reality that are in the budget documents.”

The CTU is in the middle of heated contract negotiations with the city, and earlier this week the union rejected the mayor’s latest proposal that would give teachers a 16% raise over five years.

The $7.7 billion budget proposed earlier this month was about $117 million larger than last year’s, making it the district’s largest ever.

Among the features of this year’s budget is $31 million in “equity grants” that will go to 219 schools with low or declining enrollments — which have been hurt by per-pupil funding formulas.

The budget also invests $619 million in “critical building improvements” at more than 300 schools that were chosen primarily based on serving underrepresented students, the district said. The schools are attended by 161,000 students citywide.

The district also earmarked $120 million for pre-K facilities, including $20 million for classroom conversions at 106 schools for the academic year beginning next month and $100 million for classroom expansion of pre-K seats for the 2020-21 school year.

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