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CPS to receive $1.8 billion from new COVID-19 relief bill

The money offers a lifeline to a district that faced a huge budget hole and helps the city’s post-coronavirus educational recovery.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to students at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy at 3319 N Clifton Ave in Lakeview, Monday, March 1, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to students at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy at 3319 N Clifton Ave in Lakeview, Monday, March 1, 2021.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools officials are expecting to receive an estimated $1.8 billion through the latest federal relief bill approved by Congress on Wednesday, offering a lifeline to a district that would have faced a multi-hundred-million dollar budget hole and aiding in the city’s post-coronavirus educational recovery.

The infusion comes through a $129 billion K-12 education package included in President Joe Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that passed in the Senate over the weekend and in the House on Wednesday. The president is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the week.

This is the third round of federal relief since the pandemic started, the first two sending a combined $925 million to CPS last year and almost $2.9 billion in total to Illinois schools. This new package brings another $5.2 billion to the state’s education system. The funds are sent to districts based on how many students from low-income families they serve.

“COVID-19 has created unprecedented financial challenges for schools throughout the country, and CPS is grateful for President Biden and members of Congress who prioritized the needs of our students by providing the funding necessary to emerge from the other side of this pandemic,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement.

“It’s never been more essential to ensure public schools — particularly those that serve high numbers of Black and Latinx students from low-income households — are equitably funded and have the resources necessary to address the unprecedented needs brought on by the pandemic. These funds will ensure we can make the investments needed to address unfinished learning and mounting social and emotional needs, and we will be working in the months ahead to ensure these resources make a real difference for our students.”

CPS officials said they expected a $300 million hit in next year’s budget because of declines in revenue — but this federal relief will fill that and more. Anticipated state funding cuts might not even happen because of significant federal help in filling state budget gaps. By some accounts, this is the largest single piece of education funding in U.S. history.

The district plans to use the new funding to cover ongoing COVID-19 costs such as cleaning, PPE and testing, as well as new initiatives in the coming months to support students’ educational and social-emotional needs as the city comes out of the darkest days of the pandemic. Other uses will include the hiring of additional nurses, social workers and special education case managers, the district said. The relief funding is required to be used by the fall of 2023.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey urged the district to use the funds to address longstanding educational inequities. He called on CPS to better support special education students; hire more social workers, nurses and counselors; and devote more resources for homeless students.

“These funds provide the ability to address critical needs that the pandemic has intensified, and to remedy decades of indifference and neglect,” Sharkey said in a statement.

CPS officials said Wednesday they still have not received the $720 million allocated to the district from the December relief, which was expected to fill budget holes for the fiscal year ending in June and cover COVID-related expenses such as computers and internet, reopening safety measures and the first year of the new Chicago Teachers Union contract negotiated in 2019. That money was sent to the state and is yet to be released to districts.