If the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools cuts the year short in order to save money, it could cost the district nearly $20 million in state aid for next year.
CPS on Monday threatened to end the year 13 days early — on June 1 — unless a budget rescue materializes, putting at risk $18 million in state aid for next school year, according to CPS figures. That’s $6 million for each of the three days CPS drops below the required 174 student attendance days. The district calculated 171 total days by including teaching training days, which it said the State Board of Education allows.
The district argued it’s still worth it to end the year early, saying the price of keeping its doors open is far greater than what it will lose in state aid. After accounting for the lost state aid, CPS still expects to save at least $91 million if it schools end on June 1, an estimate the district calls conservative. It is also considering cancelling elementary summer school to save another $5 million.
CPS’ threat to end school early is the latest in the district’s campaign to pressure Gov. Bruce Rauner to help CPS make a $721 million pension payment due in June. Rauner vetoed a bill to provide CPS $215 million toward that payment in December, opening up a mid-year hole in CPS’ budget.
Rauner said that money was contingent on passage of state pension reforms, which haven’t happened. Rauner has repeatedly blamed CPS’ current budget woes on what he calls decades of mismanagement.
The district is also trying to ramp up pressure on Rauner through a civil rights lawsuit it filed against him and the state this month. The suit highlights the state’s practice of covering teacher pensions costs for all school districts except Chicago. In a court filing Monday, CPS asked the courts to stop the state from funding schools in a way that CPS says discriminates against minority students in Chicago, potentially forcing the state to help CPS make its June pension payment. The first court hearing in that case is Friday.
“Shortening the school year is an option we will work hard to prevent,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement. “But to avoid shortening the school year, CPS requires relief from the state’s racially discriminatory funding – either through action in Springfield or through a court order requiring the State to end its discriminatory funding.”
CPS wants a Cook County judge to fast-track that suit. A favorable decision could allow CPS to end the school year on time and avoid a financial penalty by the state.
The state penalty is on the table because CPS missed the deadline to apply for a waiver from the state’s student attendance requirement. However, even if CPS had applied, there is no guarantee it would been approved. A State Board of Education spokeswoman said that such requests usually are denied by the General Assembly.
The school district’s current budget hole is $129 million, even after cutting school-based budgets earlier this month and also imposing four unpaid furlough days on teachers. The deficit was down to $111 million but CPS restored $18 million in cuts last week primarily to schools with high numbers of low-income students after Latino leaders complained that predominantly Latino and low-income schools were harder hit than other schools.