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Students wearing backpacks and accompanied by adults walk on a sidewalk.

Funding to help serve newly arriving migrant students was one of the education issues on the table in Springfield negotiations this legislative session.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

School cops, migrant students, funding shortfall: How CPS fared in Springfield

Mayor Brandon Johnson and CPS officials staved off bills that would limit their control but fell short of securing more funding.

From police officers to closings, funding for new migrant students to dollars for after-school programs, education was a hot topic in Springfield during the just-ended legislative session.

Mayor Brandon Johnson, Board of Education President Jianan Shi, Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Pedro Martinez and Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates each traveled downstate to lobby lawmakers and the governor about priorities for the district.

Here’s how CPS fared.

Funding for CPS

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been at odds with Johnson, and, in the end, the governor and legislature didn’t agree to the district’s requests for more funding.

“It ought to be our priority to put more money into education, but not just for the city of Chicago,” Pritzker said. “The city of Chicago is 20% of the population of the state. So we have a lot of other people, a lot of other kids across the state going to school. We need to fund their schools better, too.”

Demands for more funding have centered around the state’s funding model, created in 2017, which gives school districts money based on hardships and student needs. More dollars go to systems with higher levels of poverty or more kids who are unhoused, learning English or disabled.

The majority of Illinois’ 929 public school districts, including CPS, have less than 90% of the money they need to adequately serve their students, state data show.

The budget just passed by the General Assembly increases K-12 funding through that formula by $350 million, which is the minimum allowed by the law. Advocates had sought $550 million.

Martinez has argued needs are growing faster than funding because of the constant arrivals of migrant families and growing homelessness.

Martinez now is looking to make cuts in the district’s central office to fill a $391 million budget deficit for this upcoming school year. That deficit doesn’t account for raises expected this year in a new Chicago Teachers Union contract. The current contract expires June 30 and negotiations are underway. It also doesn’t factor in an already-settled contract with CPS support staff that includes a 4% raise. And a $691 million budget hole already looms the following year with no clear options.

“I don’t blame our leaders, our leaders are increasing funding, they didn’t create this problem, they inherited it,” Martinez said Wednesday. “But it’s important for all of us to be working together, especially as we think of the outer years. We’ll figure out this upcoming year. It won’t be perfect. But the challenge is only going to get bigger.”

Schools closings and selective enrollments

The most contentious CPS bill this session stalled at the finish line.

Johnson, his school board and the CTU strongly opposed the bill that would have extended a ban on Chicago school closings and prevented the Board of Education from making significant admissions or budgetary decisions at selective enrollment schools.

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon sat on the bill after it passed the Illinois House. Harmon was the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, but in the end he took Johnson’s word in a letter sent on May 23 in which the mayor said the bill “seeks to solve problems that don’t exist.”

Johnson vowed not to shut down schools, pointing to his advocacy against past Chicago school closures. And he promised not to make significant changes in the city’s selective enrollment programs.

It was always unlikely, if not impossible, that CPS would close selective schools, which are some of the district’s highest achieving. But some schools have reported that a change in the district’s funding model this spring affected their budgets.

And with the existing moratorium on school closings coming to an end in 2025 as planned, all eyes go to charter schools. Johnson’s Board of Education has been skeptical of some charters that are struggling academically and financially, opting to grant them short renewal terms earlier this year.

While the school board won’t look the same after this fall’s first-ever elections, Johnson will still appoint a majority of members and maintain control over CPS through nearly his entire term.

State Rep. Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, was the chief sponsor in the House and said in a statement she was “deeply disappointed that President Harmon decided not to call this bill.

“I hope the Mayor holds true to his letter and does not make any changes to these schools before a fully elected school board is in place in 2027,” she said.

After-school programs

In a major win for schools and community organizations around the state, the General Assembly approved a new $50 million program to fund after-school programs that were at risk of shutting down.

A miscalculation by state officials meant federal grants were due to run out for programs serving around 40,000 students statewide, including 15,000 in 123 Chicago schools.

Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said details still need to be hashed out before the money can be distributed. He hopes that process moves quickly because programs, including ones run by his organization, remain in danger for this summer and fall. But he called the new state-operated system a “huge accomplishment” that advocates have sought for years

“It more than fills the gap,” Brosnan said. “And it actually starts moving our state towards what our ultimate vision is, which is that we would have these types of after-school and community school programs and services available to all [high-needs] schools in the state of Illinois.”

School police officers

A bill to leave the decision over whether schools should have police officers with local school councils didn’t come to a vote in the Illinois House, where some lawmakers were at odds with Johnson and CPS.

State Rep. Mary Gill, D-Chicago, was the bill’s chief sponsor and tried to whip votes in the final days of the spring session. Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch set a threshold of 60 House Democrats in support before he would call it, several sources said. Despite coming close, the bill stalled.

This marks a win for CPS, Johnson and his Board of Education, which oppose the bill because they voted to remove police officers next school year from the 39 high schools that still have them. District officials presented a plan on May 24 to enact alternative safety plans in schools, focusing on restorative and holistic practices that aim to address root causes of trauma and train students to de-escalate conflicts to avoid the criminal justice system. Schools that have followed that path in recent years have shown promising results.

Student sexual abuse protection

A late-developing bill that came in response to a sexual abuse lawsuit against CPS passed unanimously in the Illinois House and is expected to be taken up by the Senate in the fall veto session.

The bill would prevent courts from considering “contributory fault” in child sex abuse cases. That practice limits the damages a plaintiff can seek in a personal injury case if they were considered partially at fault.

The bill would also establish that all sexual abuse of children is traumatic, and victims would no longer need to provide evidence that they were harmed. Instead they could provide evidence showing the extent of their harm.

State Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, introduced the bill after he criticized CPS for its handling of a former student’s lawsuit claiming she was sexually assaulted by a former teacher. He has called on the district to fire its top attorney.

Migrant student help

The General Assembly didn’t allocate additional funding for newly arriving migrant students in the state budget. A proposal would have provided grants to school districts where dozens, hundreds or in some cases thousands of children are arriving from the southern border. These kids often don’t have permanent housing, might not speak English and lack basics like clothing and transportation.

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