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Chicago clergy join CPS in lobbying Rauner for more money

Pastor Walter P. Turner III, speaks at New Spiritual Light M.B. Church in the South Shore neighborhood on Thursday. | Lauren FitzPatrick/Sun-Times

Flailing to plug massive budget holes for Chicago Public Schools, Forrest Claypool has now enlisted help from Chicago’s clergy to push his education funding campaign in Springfield.

Pastors across Chicago plan to talk about CPS’ funding problems on Sunday and encourage their congregations to flood the offices of the governor and legislators with phone calls on Monday, they announced at a West Side Church, where they gathered after a separate meeting earlier Thursday with Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Rauner, whose budget would cut CPS funding by $74 million, and Democratic leaders, who support greater funding for the state’s largest school district, have been at a monthslong impasse. The governor also has launched a financial investigation into CPS and has suggested the district should consider bankruptcy.

Walter P. Turner III, pastor of New Spiritual Light M.B. Church in the South Shore neighborhood, said they weren’t there “to put the blame on anybody.”

Turner and about 10 colleagues spoke at length with Rauner on Thursday morning. “We as men and women of God, we are about reconciliation. . . . At the end of the day it ain’t about Democrats, it ain’t about Republicans, at the end of the the day, it’s about our children.

“So the governor said he wanted to continue to sit and dialogue with us so we can make sure we’re all on the same page,” Turner said. “Because we know if our children ain’t in school they on the streets, and if they on the streets with the way the shootings been going on, I’m tired of burying more babies than seniors.”

Claypool echoed the points he has been making in recent months since CPS’ budget woes took a turn for the worse: That Chicago’s kids are shortchanged by the current school funding formula and lose money under Rauner’s budget proposal while wealthier suburban districts gain.

Though Chicago accounts for 20 percent of the state’s population and tax revenue, CPS gets less than 20 percent in state school funding, the CPS CEO said.

Claypool said that difference could solve major fiscal problems as the CPS has not yet been able to ink a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union — and its efforts to borrow money both fell short by millions and came at a higher interest rate than planned.

Among the predominantly African-American crowd at the church, Claypool spoke at length, specifically about a separate but unequal funding system in Illinois.

“There’s no question that we have to fix this system. The state of Illinois is perpetuating two separate but unequal systems of public education,” he said. “As I said before, the governor did not create this system but he continues to defend it.”

Rauner’s office acknowledged the meeting in an email.

“Governor Rauner has a years-long record of working to improve education, particularly for low-income schools, and he is always eager to exchange views with community leaders,” spokeswoman Catherine Kelly wrote.

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles