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CTU researcher Pavlyn Jankov speaks amid CPS staff and supporters Wednesday in Springfield.

CTU researcher Pavlyn Jankov speaks amid CPS staff and supporters Wednesday in Springfield.

Nader Issa

CPS, CTU converge on Springfield to ask lawmakers about more money for schools

SPRINGFIELD — The top leaders of Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union joined forces with some 250 teachers and staff in Springfield on Wednesday to ask lawmakers for more education funding in the final days of the spring legislative session.

CTU members took buses to the state capital and split into groups to meet with legislators and make their case for additional funding as CPS faces a nearly $400 million budget deficit for next school year and some schools are reporting cuts.

The prospects for more funding are unclear with Mayor Brandon Johnson’s shaky relationship with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the state facing its own financial challenges and a couple ongoing battles between Springfield and the CTU.

But city officials and teachers said the need is evident.

Rocio Gonzalez, a dual language teacher at Cooper Language Academy in the Pilsen neighborhood, said funding at her school appears to be holding steady — but that’s insufficient because Cooper has added around 100 migrant students this year, she said.

“Our music teacher, our librarian, our physical education teacher, they were teaching with 50 students in their period,” Gonzalez said. “Our teachers are struggling every day to provide what our students need. … [Our students] don’t deserve another school year with limited resources.”

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, who hugged and took photos with CTU members, said the need for resources to help new kids in special education and incoming migrant students is “significantly outpacing the funding increases” the district has received in recent years.

“We’re not trying to jump ahead of the line. We’re not trying to get more than our fair share,” Martinez said. “We’re just trying to make sure that CPS gets treated fairly along with other districts, that they appreciate the complexity of the increase in migrant students.”

“Our enrollment has increased. I would have never seen that coming,” he said. “I was happy just to stabilize the district last year. And here we are now, up 7,000 students.”

Martinez was joined by Board of Education President Jianan Shi and CTU President Stacy Davis Gates for meetings with Senate President Don Harmon and Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. Martinez and Shi separately met with representatives of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office, a meeting the CTU was not invited to, a source said.

A Pritzker spokesman said the governor’s office “appreciated the opportunity to discuss the state’s continued support for the district.” Officials made the case that CPS has received plenty of state help, including grants for particular programs and a 14% — or $265 million — increase in funding since 2019.

Harmon’s spokesman said the Senate president had a “great meeting,” and his office will “be reviewing their requests.” Welch’s spokeswoman said it was too soon to comment on CPS’ asks.

Martinez and Shi said the meetings were “productive” and hoped they would mark the start of a better relationship between Chicago and Springfield.

Much of the focus of Wednesday’s lobbying involved the state’s Evidence-Based Funding formula that was created in 2017 and doles out money to school districts based on students’ needs, like how many kids are living in poverty, disabled, unhoused or learning English. Districts are divided into tiers — Tier 1 needing the most help and Tier 4 the least.

The system set funding targets for school districts to adequately serve their students and found many across Illinois — including Chicago — don’t have enough money. So the law vowed to increase funding for a decade to reach 90% adequacy by 2027.

Since then, lawmakers have added $350 million every year, the minimum required by the law. Now just three years away from the state’s deadline, the state still needs to add $2.5 billion to meet its goal. That would take about $820 million per year for the next three years, state officials estimate.

CPS is still almost $1 billion short of 90% adequacy — and that was the focus for the Chicago group on Wednesday.

Martinez said the CPS team relayed its support for a bill in the Senate that would increase the minimum yearly EBF increase from $350 million to $550 million to start making progress towards adequacy. CPS’ share of that increase is unclear.

CPS officials are also expecting the district to be reclassified into Tier 1 because of the increase in migrant students and children who are in poverty or unhoused, Martinez said. He estimated that would bring in an additional $30 million to CPS. The school system had moved to Tier 2 a couple years ago.

CPS and CTU are also lobbying for the state to restore $35 million in after-school program grants that were cut statewide, including $15 million for CPS. And they support a bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Streamwood, that would make $35 million available to school districts facing large increases in migrant student populations.

“We’re going to have to continue to find some efficiencies,” Martinez said of filling CPS’ budget deficit, acknowledging the state won’t provide anywhere near $1 billion this spring. “I’m realistic that we’re not going to be able to have the state fund it all. But at the same time we have these legitimate needs that are only going to continue to grow. … It’s not just this year, this is a multi-year problem.”

Martinez said he was happy to see so many teachers in Springfield meeting with lawmakers. CPS allowed for a paid day off for one staffer at every school district-wide — around 600 teachers and staff from Mayor Brandon Johnson’s former union. Around 250 went to the state capital.

“It makes me want to fight for them even more,” Martinez said. “I know how hard they’re working, and the fact that they’re willing to take some time to share what their experience is, it’s both very touching and frankly our legislators need to hear it.”

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