CPS, Lightfoot take 1st steps toward revamping per-pupil school funding formula

Critics have said the city’s current system of funding schools has widened the equity gap in the city’s public schools system.

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks during a press conference where Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced her new Chicago Board of Education at Lionel Hampton Fine & Performing Arts School, Monday morning, June 3, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Years of complaints that Chicago’s school funding formula deepens the inequity in the city’s public education system have prompted a review that could lead to changing it.

The mayor, looking to take the first step in fulfilling one of her key educational campaign promises, announced with Chicago Public Schools leaders Thursday the formation of a working group that will look into equitable changes to the city’s per-pupil funding system.

The group is set to hold six community meetings starting next month to hear input from parents, students and school staff before offering its recommendations for revamping the funding formula.

Under the current formula put in place six years ago under former schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and ex-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, each school receives funding based on enrollment. In theory, the district said the idea was to give principals more autonomy to tailor their schools’ services to their unique student-bodies. This year, schools received a baseline of just more than $4,500 per student.

In practice, the formula has widened the difference between schools with high- and low-income families, critics say. Larger schools with whiter and richer student populations have wealthier parents who are more active in fundraising that helps support the school budget. Schools without that extra funding are left searching for answers even though they might have more students who need additional educational support, such as kids who are homeless, don’t speak English as their first language or have a learning disability.

When they can’t afford to provide a fully resourced education, the schools lose students to better resourced schools, which then causes the school to lose even more funding because of dropping enrollment.

Though the district has started to offer what it calls “equity grants” to support schools that are seeing that spiral effect, the schools still usually end up with less money.

Aiming to change that, Lightfoot and CPS have organized this working group made up of two school board members, several CPS officials, principals, Chicago Teachers Union members.

“If we want to fulfill our promise as a city to give every child a quality education and to prove through our schools that we believe in them, it is crucial to listen to communities throughout Chicago who take pride in their neighborhood schools,” the mayor said in a statement promising a “more transparent and equitable budgeting process.”

The group will meet in the coming months and offer recommendations before school budgets are released this spring. Though some changes could happen in time for the next budget, the district said bigger changes would likely have to wait until the 2021-22 school year.

The meetings are all at schools across the city with the first happening Jan. 29 and the last falling on Feb. 8:

  • Jan. 29, 6-8 p.m., Amundsen High School, 5110 N. Damen Ave.
  • Jan. 30, 6-8 p.m., Michele Clark High School, 5101 W. Harrison St.
  • Feb. 1, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Corliss High School, 821 E. 103rd St.
  • Feb. 5, 6-8 p.m., Hammond Elementary, 2819 W. 21st Pl.
  • Feb. 6, 6-8 p.m., Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St.
  • Feb. 8, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Roberto Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western Ave.

The members of the working group are:

  • Sendhil Revuluri, vice president, Chicago Board of Education
  • Elizabeth Todd-Breland, member, Chicago Board of Education 
  • Carlos Azcoitia, former CPS Principal and Board Member, and Professor Emeritus National Lewis University 
  • Krystal Burns, parent representative and member of the Harold Washington Elementary School LSC
  • Bogdana Chkoumbova, Chief Schools Officer, Chicago Public Schools
  • Maureen Delgado, principal, Clinton Elementary School 
  • Vanessa Espinoza, parent representative and member of the Gunsaulus Elementary School Local School Council
  • Rachel Garza Resnick, retired CPS administrator 
  • Kurt Hilgendorf, Chicago Teachers Union
  • Pavlyn Jankov, Chicago Teachers Union
  • Josh Long, principal, Southside Occupational High School
  • Sybil Madison, deputy mayor for education, City of Chicago
  • Matt McCabe, chief of staff and Public Affairs, Noble Network of Charter Schools
  • Cameron Mock, Chief of Staff and senior fiscal advisor to the deputy governor
  • Candace Moore, Chief Equity Officer, city of Chicago
  • Robin Steans, president, Advance Illinois
  • Maurice Swinney, Chief Equity Officer, Chicago Public Schools
  • Ricardo Trujillo, deputy chief of Network 5, Chicago Public Schools 
  • Two students from the CPS Student Voice and Activism Council
  • One teacher representative from the Teacher Advisory Council 
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