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Governor’s Office Says Chicago Public Schools Manufacturing Budget Crisis

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration swung back at Chicago Public Schools Tuesday after CPS leaders blamed the governor for nearly $70 million in budget cuts announced this week.

Beth Purvis, Rauner’s education secretary, sent a letter to CPS parents saying the district is manufacturing a crisis with mid-year budget cuts.

“The Illinois Senate is currently considering a balanced budget package that would include comprehensive pension reform, including funds for CPS pensions, and a new school funding formula,” Purvis wrote to parents. “Why would CPS arbitrarily create a crisis and hurt its students and teachers rather than work to pass the Senate’s balanced budget reform package?”

In an interview with WBEZ Purvis added, “We think the timing was curious.”

District officials on Monday instituted a freeze on discretionary spending for schools on things like new books and recess workers, amounting to a $46 million cut. (See data for individual schools here) Public charter schools, which are funded through CPS, will see an equivalent cut in April to generate another $18 million in savings. CPS also plans to cut $5 million in professional development funds.

District officials blamed Rauner for the cuts because he vetoed $215 million in pension help for the city’s schools late last year. CPS CEO Forrest Claypool likened Rauner to President Trump: “Just like Donald Trump, he is going to score political points with his base by attacking Chicago.” 

Rauner says he vetoed CPS' pension payment because it was contingent on state lawmakers reaching a larger deal to reform the state employee pension systems. 

But Purvis noted in her letter Tuesday that CPS has until June 30 to make its pension payment.

“Rather than cutting services and creating a crisis to help justify a campaign to raise taxes in Springfield, it would be helpful to everyone if CPS would work with all parties to enact a balanced budget package that includes comprehensive pension reform and a new and equitable school funding formula,” Purvis wrote.

In response, Claypool said CPS had to act.

“In the absence of state funding, CPS must take emergency actions now to meet its legal obligation to keep revenues and expenses balanced, and cannot blithely and irresponsibly fail to do so as the governor and Springfield have done for two consecutive years,” Claypool said in a statement.

“We will work with anyone who is interested in equitably funding all Illinois schools,” Claypool said. “The governor has proven himself to be unreliable on this point, as he went back on his word to fund Chicago children. If this is a change of heart, we hope there is funding behind his rhetoric.”

Becky Vevea covers education for WBEZ. You can follow her at @WBEZeducation.

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