Caroline Bilicki’s son does not have special needs, but that did not stop her from joining a group of LSC members at City Hall Wednesday to protest changes in Chicago Public School special education spending.

Bilicki, a parent representative on the local school council at Disney II, has seen her son’s language class balloon to 35 students as the school tries to deal with funding cuts while meeting the needs of its special education students. She believes the needs of special education students — already massively under-supported in many cases, she said — are intruding on her son’s education.

That’s the uncomfortable situation CPS parents find themselves in after the change in how CPS handles special-ed money.

Jennie Biggs, a parent representative at Sheridan Elementary, says co-mingling special-ed funds with the rest of a school’s budget is “pitting special education and general education in a Hunger-Games-style competition” within schools.

An aide from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office accepts a letter from local school council members. They delivered it to City Hall on Wednesday to protest changes in how schools handle special-education funding. | Jesse Betend/For the Sun-Times

An aide from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office accepts a letter from local school council members. They delivered it to City Hall on Wednesday to protest changes in how schools handle special-education funding. | Jesse Betend/For the Sun-Times

LSC members from more than 150 schools signed a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel detailing their concerns with what the group calls “shady funding.”

Rod Estvan, an education policy analyst with Access Living, an advocacy group, says the system puts parents and principles in a bad situation.

“It’s not that regular ed parents are prejudicial,” Estvan Said. “They’re being forced to make terrible choices.”

Estvan says the change in the funding method, which took effect this academic year, is perfectly legal under state statute and changing it back could be costly. Estvan estimates the state saves $200,000 using the current funding model.

Maggie Baran, a parent rep at Hitch Elementary, said LSC members and principles really just want to work with the board of education.

“We are committed to doing more with less. Less money. Less support. Less acceptable service from contractors, and yes, less transparency from CPS leaders and the board of education,” said Baran. “Our city needs to understand our CPS board of education is not working with us, and certainly not working for our kids.”

Estvan says on top of funding problems, the CPS faces staffing problems as well. Poor working conditions for special education teachers in Illinois make it difficult to hire qualified teachers, he said, adding that he often is asked to refer legal counsel to special education families seeking to sue the district.

“What Chicago Public Schools is not telling families and not telling the media is when they enter into negotiations and they concede the fact that they violated a child’s right, they make [the family] sign a nondisclosure agreement,” Estvan said. “This happens over and over and over again.”

The result is these families can no longer be witnesses in litigation against CPS for violations of their child’s Individual Education Plan.

“It’s a system, the way Chicago operates. Isn’t that the way Chicago operates? With deal making?” Estvan Said. “Might be the way they operate it over at the park District but that’s not how I’m going to operate it in Chicago.”

Parent Jennie Biggs says the current CPS funding model is pitting general and special education in a "Hunger Games style competition." | Jesse Betend/For the Sun-Times

Parent Jennie Biggs says the current CPS funding model is pitting general and special education in a “Hunger Games style competition.” | Jesse Betend/For the Sun-Times