Another Big Enrollment Drop For Chicago Schools Drives Down Budget

Another Big Enrollment Drop For Chicago Schools Drives Down Budget

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Another big drop in student enrollment is expected for the Chicago Public Schools this year, resulting in less money going to its more than 500 district-run schools, according to budget documents released on Thursday.  

CPS officials estimate 8,000 fewer students will enroll in the city’s public schools next school year. District officials gave principals their budgets Thursday. This is the latest school-based budgets have been released in recent memory. CPS’ full budget will be released Aug. 7.

Separate from the enrollment drop, CPS plans to increase per pupil spending by about $200 this year to $4,390. That’s good news for principals who must use this money to pay for teacher and staff raises that were promised in contracts approved last year  

Still, overall spending going to schools will be $43 million less than last year — nearly $2.3 billion total — because schools will enroll fewer students this year and the school district is expecting less federal money.

The news about school budgets is not as bad as it could be. That’s partly because, for the third year in a row, it is counting on state money that may never materialize. This year, CPS is assuming an overhaul of the state’s school funding formula will become law and deliver an extra $300 million to the school district. The bill passed the state Legislature in late May, but Gov. Bruce Rauner says he will veto it. He calls it a “bailout” for the school district. According to Rauner’s office, CPS would get $145 million less after his veto.

For the past two years, schools have been stung by midyear budget cuts, leading some principals to start budgeting in case they occur. State payments to all Illinois school districts are due by Aug. 10, amping up the pressure on state leaders to quickly resolve this issue.

Some superintendents have said that without the state money, they won’t be able to open on time. Chicago Schools Chief Forrest Claypool said the school district is in better shape.

“We are going to make sure that for this school year our schools open and remain open,” he said. “We will do whatever is necessary to make that happen, despite the very difficult fiscal position we have been put in because of the dramatically unequal state funding.”

Claypool declined to say whether CPS will have a deficit this year or whether he is also expecting the City of Chicago to provide additional revenue. The answers to those questions will come on August 7 when the full CPS budget is released.

Claypool also said CPS should not be blamed for its enrollment decline, noting that it is part of a statewide trend, driven in part by people having fewer babies. If projections are correct, CPS’ student population would be about 373,000—a nearly 50,000 student drop since 2005.

Much of the enrollment decrease has been in black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of Chicago. As it has done in recent years, the school district will provide extra money to schools hit the hardest so that they can provide basic levels of instruction.

The per pupil stipends make up the bulk of what each school receives. On top of that, schools get additional money or positions for administrators, support staff and special education, among other things.

CPS also said Thursday it is once again changing how it funds special education. The district will provide more money for staff working in programs for severely disabled students.

Additionally, it will end the practice of  withholding 4 percent of each school’s special education budget money, as it did last year. Principals had to appeal for that money and prove they needed it.

A WBEZ analysis of CPS data found that almost 200 principals asked for a share of the funds. But only $3.5 million of $20 million available was doled out to 43 schools. The analysis also showed that the small number of white, middle-class schools succeeded more than majority poor, black and Latino schools in getting the money back.

Last year, school district leaders were sharply criticized when they overhauled how money was given to schools. Rather than separate money for special education students, principals were given a lump sum of cash and told to use it to pay for both general education and special education students.

CPS principals say this year they were told precisely how much they must spend on special education, but still are not sure they can cover all expenses with the designated money. If not, they will again have to reach into money for general education students.