Celebrating Back To School At A Time Of Uncertainty | WBEZ
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Celebrating Back To School At A Time Of Uncertainty

As Illinois lawmakers met this weekend to try to end a political fight over how to fairly distribute state money to schools across Illinois, Chicagoans gathered for the 88th annual Bud Billiken Parade on the South Side to gear up for the school year and share their frustrations on the state’s latest school funding fight.

“Our children should have the same supplies that those children have in Naperville,” said parade-goer Adrienne Sanders, a Chicago Public Schools parent who recently transferred her daughter from a school in Naperville. “It’s so unfair. The government is keeping the money for what reason?”

The annual parade in Bronzeville is a celebration of education in Chicago’s black community,  with marching bands from South Side high schools, floats from local radio stations, and local politicians making their own back-to-school speeches.

The biggest draw for Saturday’s parade-goers was this year’s grand marshal, Chance the Rapper. Chance, born Chancelor Bennett, has been a vocal critic of lawmakers, including Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for playing politics with education.

Rauner and the Democratic-led General Assembly are at odds over how to reform the state’s system for doling out money to schools. The Democrats passed a bill, known as SB1, but Rauner partially vetoed it on Aug. 1. The Illinois Senate voted on Saturday to override the veto. The House meets on Wednesday to consider an override. The outcome there is less certain.

SB1 would begin to reverse some of the inequity between wealthy and poor school districts, but the governor rejects key parts of that plan, calling it a “bailout” for Chicago schools.

No money can flow to Illinois school districts until this stalemate is resolved. But even if Chicago gets the state money it is hoping for, Chicago Public Schools officials say they will still need $270 million in “local resources” from the city to close their budget gap.

“The mayor’s made a lot of promises about keeping schools open for the school year, but he’s also borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Kenneth Borre, a teacher at Senn High School on Chicago’s North Side. “So now instead of spending money on classrooms, books, computers, we’re spending on interest for the loans CPS has taken out.”

Borre, who attended the Bud Billiken Parade just two weeks before he returns to work, said he’s less worried about starting the school year than he is about finishing it.

Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her at @beckyvevea.

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