As Chicago schools go, so goes the city. Let’s hope there’s a fix for CPS finances
As a former educator, I wonder about these things: If CPS is forced to close schools and lay off employees, will that cause a decline in the quality-of-life, force families and businesses to leave and the city to decline?
I recently read a story by Sun-Times reporters Nader Issa and Fran Spielman on how the city, under Mayor Lori Lightfoot, is shifting educational expenses the city once covered back to the Chicago Public Schools.
The reason? Starting in 2025, CPS will be governed by an elected school board, not one appointed by the office of the mayor. No oversight, no money. So the financially strapped CPS could soon face a budget deficit of $600 million, with future “school closings and mass layoffs” possible.
A few days after reading the story, I thought about it all — as a former educator, I often think about these things — over a cup of morning coffee at Millennium Station, while I waited for a Metra train to University Park to spend the day with a friend.
By the time my train reached its destination, I came to see a potentially grave situation developing. As I stepped off the train, the crumpled ticket I held could have been a ticket on the “If-Then” Express.
To clarify, if-then statements refer to the process by which we appraise a situation, weigh information and consider a possible outcome: If A, then B. Cause and effect.
Sometimes our if’s and then’s couple up like cars in a long train of thought. The one I’m about to lay out here is based upon the premise that causal relationships do exist between schools, neighborhoods and the economic health of a city.
If CPS is forced to close neighborhood schools and lay off employees, will that then cause a decline in the quality-of-life in those neighborhoods?
If neighborhoods decline, will that lead more families to leave the city for better economic and educational opportunities?
If the quality of education in CPS declines due to budget cuts and layoffs, will that lead to a decrease in the number of graduates qualified to enter the city’s workforce?
If the number of qualified graduates decreases, will that deter businesses from establishing themselves in the city?
If the city cannot attract new businesses to the neighborhoods, or downtown for that matter, will that lead to a decline in the city’s economy beyond the damage done by the pandemic and gun violence?
If CPS fails, will the city then fail?
A very rough trip, indeed.
Turning to the state
So, where will the money CPS needs come from? Unlike other school districts, as Issa and Spielman point out, CPS cannot turn to a voter referendum to raise revenue. Nor is help likely to come from the federal government.
The state legislature seems the most likely option; and after all, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said before the election that he favors increasing educational funding.
But what specifics lie behind his assertion? Allow CPS to increase tax revenues via referendum? Shift CPS pensions to the state system? Raise money via bake sales and sock hops?
The governor and legislators need to come up with a long-term funding plan for CPS for the city’s sake. No slap-dash, one-time fixes.
While some may think I have overstated the potential for disaster, I believe ignoring worst-case scenarios often invites disaster.
As I waited for my ride at the University Park station, I found a clump of prairie sundrops nestled at the base of the pedestrian stairwell.
Despite the bitter cold, the buttery-yellow flowers were in bloom. The stone foundation had been absorbing and then radiating the warmth of the sun, keeping the plants alive and their blossoms open.
But how long would they, like CPS, last against the bitter winter to come?
John Vukmirovich is a Chicago-area writer and book reviewer.
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