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CPS unveils pandemic recovery plan funded by half-billion in federal relief money

The plan is part of $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding that parent advocates have demanded be used to support the students hurt most by the pandemic.

An IB English student listens to the teacher at Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood, Friday afternoon, April 23, 2021.
An IB English student listens to the teacher at Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood, Friday afternoon, April 23, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Public Schools officials unveiled a half-billion dollar, two-year pandemic recovery plan Wednesday that they hoped would address many of the demands families and educators have made in recent months.

In a presentation at a special Board of Education meeting held virtually, the district laid out its vision for $525 million in federal relief funding for school and student supports, including $267 million this upcoming school year.

The recovery will prioritize students’ social and emotional needs and grade-level content and instruction, officials said.

“Research suggests that when educational systems attempt to address unfinished learning or achievement deficits by picking up where students left off or over-remediating lower level skills, students will actually continue to fall behind,” Sherly Chavarria, CPS’ teaching and learning chief, told the school board.

The plan is part of $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding that parent advocates have demanded be used to support the students hurt most by the pandemic. CPS said the rest of the funds would go toward other educational investments but didn’t immediately release those details.

The money is in three buckets to address specific needs, the district said. Principals will receive $160 million — $68 million of it next school year — in so-called “flexible funding” to use as their school communities see fit for needs such as additional support staff or supplemental programs. Schools with higher needs will receive more money, CPS said.

Another $165 million will be used to provide specific resources such as a new district-wide curriculum, academic interventions, classroom technology and professional learning for staff. An additional $201 million will go toward tutoring, mentorship, mental health support, early literacy support, job opportunities, more school counselors and resources for special education and English learner students.

Officials said they would hire and train 850 new staff members to serve as literacy tutors for kindergarten through fifth graders and math tutors for grades six through 12. CPS predicts that initiative will serve 38,000 students by the end of the 2022-23 school year.

The district also plans to dedicate resources to a citywide back-to-school marketing campaign, including enlisting community organizations to help with family outreach and giving every school a budget to pay staff stipends for summer calls and home visits.

CPS conducted a student survey and convened a couple dozen focus groups to hear input on the plan and will host two town halls on June 28 and 30 to share more information. But school board Vice President Sendhil Revuluri was concerned not all families were able to weigh in.

“I worry that those who have been most impacted and most disengaged because of the events over the last year and a half often find it hardest to participate when we ask them to come to us as opposed to us going to them,” Revuluri said.

Board President Miguel del Valle said he “hears the frustration in people that are out there.

“And it may be not exactly what your advocacy group has advocated for, but I think we’re close in terms of what it is that folks are demanding, and rightfully so.”