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CPS using state money to pay debt

Illinois legislators grilled top Chicago Public School officials Thursday about the district’s spending habits.

At an appropriations committee meeting, state lawmakers interrogated CPS officials about how the district is using state money. The answer is not what elected officials wanted to hear.

CPS is using state funds to pay off its debt: $160 million last year alone. That’s 17 percent of Chicago’s general state aid, which is state money meant to follow students. CPS budget director Ginger Ostro said it's not a new practice, but lawmakers were still caught off guard.

District officials recognize debt payments suck up a good portion of the budget and say they hope to work with the state to fix CPS’s financial problems.

But lawmakers may also cut the amount Chicago gets for special education, early childhood education and transportation. Currently, CPS gets a flat grant regardless of how many kids use those services. Legislators want to change that because they say the number of needy students has declined in recent years.

The state education budget is likely going to be slashed again this year. The State Board of Education and Gov. Pat Quinn both proposed increases.

But two House resolutions passed last month limit the House Elementary and Secondary Education Appropriations Committee to a $6.5 billion budget, $260 million less than last year’s budget and $523 million less than what the state board is proposing.

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