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Chicago Schools For Dropouts Lose Funding After Audit Uncovers Low Attendance

A dozen Chicago public schools for dropout students are losing millions of dollars because not enough students are regularly coming to class.

Chicago Public Schools is trimming a total of $1.8 million from the budgets of these 12 school, according to a letter to school operators obtained by WBEZ. Another round of cuts also is expected before June. Combined, the overall budget for the 12 schools is $33 million. 

The cuts come after district officials told the companies running these new, mostly half-day schools they would no longer be paid based on enrollment, but rather on average daily attendance. 

This follows a recent CPS audit that found roughly half of the dropouts re-enrolled in many of these alternative schools were not showing up to class on any given day.

In addition to the new cuts based on attendance, district officials said in the letter sent to schools last week that they were also reducing quarterly payments to all alternative schools and charters by $190 per student. Preliminary reductions were announced in February as part of the budget cuts implemented mid-year to close the district’s budget gap. Alternative schools enroll anywhere from 100 to 400 students.

In total, $11.8 million is being trimmed from charters and alternative schools, which is less than the $18 million district officials had initially calculated.

The school system cut its budget mid-year because it had been relying on $215 million from the state to help make its required pension payment in June, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed that money after negotiations with Democratic legislative leaders broke down over how to overhaul the state’s pension system. 

In their letter to alternative school operators, district officials said the additional cuts to the mostly half-day alternative schools are unrelated to the financial crisis. CPS spends more than $100 million each year educating the city’s dropouts at 40 schools. That’s nearly double what the district spent just five years ago on 26 schools.

Many of the new alternative school require students to come only half of the school day, and most of the course work is done online. Nearly all of the half-day programs get the same per student payments as full-day alternative schools. 

CPS spokesman Michael Passman said the cuts to alternative schools based on attendance “will provide schools with funding appropriate for the students they serve on a daily basis and lead to a more equitable distribution of resources."

Operators of alternative schools throughout the city said they are sorting through what these cuts mean for their schools. 

Michael Serpe, a spokesman for the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies, said they plan to meet with district officials later this week to better understand the cuts. 

“In the meantime, we are assessing how these funding reductions will impact our ability to continue educating all Chicago-area students currently attending Bridgescape Learning Academies,” Serpe said in a statement. 

Kimberley Brown, a spokeswoman for Pathways in Education, a non-profit that runs half-day alternative schools, said in a statement that any budget cut will affect school operations. 

“We are committed to our students and staff and will do our best to minimize the impact the budget cut has on them,” Brown said. 

There is one school among those facing budget cuts that runs a full-day program. Banner West Academy trains students to run their own businesses as part of earning their high school diploma. 

Banner laid off 10 people on Friday due to the cuts. Flavian Prince, Banner’s Vice President of Education, said it’s wrong to focus solely on attendance at schools serving dropouts.

“For this demographic, it should not be about, ‘Are they coming at the same clip as other kids?’” Prince said. “It’s really about, when those kids come, what do you expect of them?”

Becky Vevea covers education for WBEZ. Follow her at @WBEZEducation.

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