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CPS again approves budget counting on millions from Springfield

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey speaks at Chicago School Board meeting on Aug. 28, 2017. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chicago’s Board of Education approved on Monday a $5.7 billion budget that depends on a school funding reform package still being hammered out in Springfield — a measure board president Frank Clark revealed to be worth some $450 million to Chicago Public Schools.

Clark said he supported the compromise package.

“I cannot in my own mind balance $75 million against the $450 million that CPS would benefit from, whether I agree or disagree with” the scholarship program, Clark said at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Education, referring to the scholarship tax-credit proposal. Protesting that part “puts the whole deal in jeopardy.”

For the third year in a row, CPS is depending on promised state funding to try to balance its budget, and even with the state aid, will still need some $269 million in local money promised but explained by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. That prompted Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey to call it a “phantom budget”. He also denounced the scholarship program as “fundamentally devastating to the public school system.”

CPS hasn’t been clear about what it stands to receive in the latest version of the public school funding bill and it wouldn’t break down Clark’s estimate.

“While there are many moving pieces and the legislation is still being developed, we won’t be able to provide any estimated amount,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in an email. “Several numbers are still being shared, as this legislation is still in development and has not been finalized. Like every other district, CPS will wait for final analysis from the Illinois State Board of Education to calculate the amount of money that students could expect to receive.”

Members of the Illinois house, finally passed the new 550-page “compromise” bill, over concerns Democrats had expressed about $75 million included in tax credits to benefit private schools. It goes to the Senate Tuesday.

The new bill replaced a bipartisan one Rauner had nixed with an amendatory veto. It maintained a funding formula from the original bill aimed at giving any new education money to the state’s poorest and neediest districts without cutting funding from the rest. A formula must become law for school districts to receive their general state aid for the school year already underway at most of Illinois’ public schools.

But the new measure also includes the controversial $75 million program to grant tax credits to donors of private school scholarships. Democrats say once fully realized the program would cover scholarships for less than 6,000 K-12 students during its five-year pilot. Families earning up to about $73,000 for a household of four would be eligible, but priority will be granted to families earning less than $45,000 for that same household size, those living in an “academically failing district” including CPS, and siblings of scholarship recipients. The money would be distributed through scholarship granting organizations that weren’t named.

ISBE will determine which private schools can participate — they must assess student performance using whatever test the state administers. ISBE also will choose an independent evaluator to do an annual assessment of the academic performance of scholarship students.

Also on Monday, the school board also voted to extend the residency waiver of Claypool’s longtime colleague and top finance official Ron DeNard. DeNard, who resides in south suburban Flossmoor, was granted a two-year term on Aug. 26, 2015 shortly after Claypool was installed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Officials would not say they sought an extension of his term until March 31, 2018. Two other Claypool advisers were ousted this year over residency issues.