CPS to face ‘very, very tough decisions,’ potential budget cuts if federal funding falls through, board president says

District leaders have assumed $343 million of federal dollars in the CPS budget that was approved Wednesday by the Board of Education.

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Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaks at a press conference on June 3, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Board of Education President Miguel del Valle hinted at possible midyear budget cuts if federal funding falls through.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Public Schools officials on Wednesday opened the door to potential mid-year budget cuts if hundreds of millions of dollars of assumed federal funding don’t arrive this fall.

The school system has shown strong confidence Congress will ultimately agree to a new coronavirus emergency relief package that includes billions for education funding. District leaders have gone as far as including $343 million of federal dollars in the CPS budget that was approved Wednesday by the Board of Education.

But with talks on Capitol Hill remaining stalled, it’s a risk to balance a budget using millions that aren’t guaranteed to be available. Chicago’s leading budget watchdog Tuesday said CPS needs to come up with a backup plan in case federal funding falls through.

CPS has previously suggested one-time debt relief options could be used if Washington doesn’t dish out relief funds. On Wednesday, the tone changed.

“Without these federal dollars that we are assuming at this point we’re going to get, just like school districts throughout the entire country, we will be making some very, very tough decisions,” Board President Miguel del Valle said at the monthly school board meeting. “And so I think it’s important that everyone dedicate some time and energy to ensuring that we get that federal response that every school district in the country desperately needs at this time.”

District officials said CPS will operate with a negative cash flow the upcoming school year.

“If COVID has taught us nothing, we are the last part of the social safety net,” board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said. “Schools are on the front lines of making sure that young people and their families and our broader communities are OK. 

“I’m so proud of the work that the district has done to feed families. That’s a basic provision of social services that schools are doing. And so for the federal government to be dragging their feet on funding these essential services feels unconscionable.”

State funding this year remained flat because of the pandemic after expectations of additional funding. CPS remains more than 30% underfunded based on the state’s own estimates.

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