Mayor, School Leaders Say New Budget Is More Equitable Than Past Ones | WBEZ
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Mayor, School Leaders Say New Budget Is More Equitable Than Past Ones

Chicago Public Schools unveiled its budget Thursday with leaders saying that it represented a move toward a more equitable way of doling out money to schools.

But, outside of a focus on money to repair schools, it is not drastically different than budgets under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s predecessor, Rahm Emanuel.

The operating budget is $6.175 billion — an increase of almost $200 million from last year. The district is expecting more money from local property taxes and from the state.

In addition, the school district is planning to spend $800 million to make repairs on old school buildings and to invest in renovating or adding preschool classrooms. As is always the case, the school district plans to borrow money to pay for most of its capital budget.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson pointed to the way the school district plans to spend the $800 million as evidence that this budget is fairer than others in the past.The capital budget does not include any new construction or annexes, after a decade of more than 30 additions and new schools.

Jackson said the focus back then was to relieve overcrowding, but that also meant more money went to the Northwest Side where schools were seeing an influx of students. She said now she plans to spend to make needed repairs.

“It means a lot when there is an investment, whether that is a new field or air conditioning or just paint,” Jackson said.

The announcement took place on the Far South Side at Morgan Park High School, which is getting $12 million worth of repairs, plus new athletic fields. Morgan Park High School is the third biggest winner, behind Sullivan High School in Rogers Park, which is getting $25 million for repairs, and Reilly Elementary School in Avondale, which is getting $13.5 million.

Beyond these projects, the budget does not offer any other big shifts in the way the district is allocating resources.

The 2019-2020 spending plan sends $3.8 billion to schools, about $129 million more than last year. But most of that money is to account for salary increases that are currently being negotiated by the Chicago Teachers Union.

Lightfoot has said she wants to spend the next year re-examining the way the school district doles out money to schools. But this budget continues to rely on a system in which schools get a stipend for each student they enroll. Critics say schools losing students are hurt more by student-based budgeting because they also lose money.

Lightfoot has also said that over the next five years, she plans to hire hundreds more social workers, nurses and case managers. But the upcoming year’s budget includes less than $10 million more to hire fewer than 100 new positions. Lightfoot has said this is mostly because it will be difficult to find professionals to fill these positions.

But at a press conference earlier in the day, officials with the Chicago Teachers Union said that they don’t trust Lightfoot to make good on these promises. The union wants the school district to agree to include language in the contract on these issues. However, Lightfoot has indicated that she is reluctant to take those steps.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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