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Despite a huge influx of federal COVID-19 relief money, 40% of Chicago public school principals were told Friday they would have roughly the same or less money to spend in the fall, even as they have to pay more to teachers and staff who are promised raises in the union contract.
Affected schools saw enrollment declines this year, school district officials emphasized in a briefing on Friday. Total student enrollment this school year dropped by more than 10,000 students as part of a downward slide. Enrollment has declined by nearly 74,000 in the last decade.
CPS data shows that 162 schools are losing $70,000 or more. CPS has about 515 district-run schools. Some neighborhoods where schools are losing the most money include Avondale, North Lawndale and Belmont Cragin. Among the places where schools will see the biggest increase in school-level funding include Norwood Park, North Park, Logan Square and North Center.
School staff are slated to receive a 3.5% raise this year according to the union contract so schools receiving less than a 3.5% increase are effectively facing a budget cut. CPS stressed that low enrollment schools get extra dollars to ensure they can offer adequate programming. About 200 schools are seeing increases above 3.5%.
Highlighting what was new in the budget, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said parents should expect that if their child is struggling interventions will be provided. He also stressed a focus on early literacy, including $10 million more for free full-day preschool for four-year-olds.
Martinez said some of the services and programs that principals previously had to pay for out of school-level budgets will now be handled centrally, freeing up money for principals to spend as they wish at their schools. This includes after-school and summer programs that will now be funded through a central pot of $50 million, rather than out of school budgets based on what individual principals could afford.
Martinez said he believes the budgets will give parents a good idea of how schools will look post pandemic.
“These budgets will prioritize key areas for every school as a part of a commitment to equity across our district,” he said. “I want our parents to be able to expect that we’re going to continue to push down class sizes … We want to make sure that every child has access to the arts programming, as well as specialty classes like gym, and other extracurriculars.”
In the summer, the school district will release the entire CPS budget, as well as a spending plan for construction and renovation projects. For many years now, the school district has released school budgets in the spring so principals could hire and layoff staff to prepare for the upcoming school year.
Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, blasted the cuts.
“CPS officials have been robbing our students of critical resources for far too long,” LaRaviere said in a statement. “Parents, teachers, students, and all school community members should be outraged at the callousness and neglect with which CPS officials and the mayor approach their obligations to our students, especially during the critical time when so much more is needed.“
Martinez said the school budgets are being paid for in part with the $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money. Unless the federal government changes the deadline, this money must be spent by 2024. Martinez said he is working on a plan to prevent schools and the district from having to weather big cuts once the funds disappear.
He also has indicated that he wants to use the federal money to invest in some innovative programs as the school district “reimagines education.” Martinez said he is hoping that these programs can attract families to neighborhood schools that have seen enrollment declines.
This is Martinez’ first budget cycle, but he is continuing what is called student-based budgeting, which ties most a school’s budget to its enrollment.
It is a controversial practice, with critics noting that schools become caught in a downward spiral as they lose students. They then lose money and programs that prevent them attracting students.
The per-student stipend will be increasing by 3.5%, but that will only pay for the raise promised to teachers and staff in the union contract.
Martinez defended continuing to use this formula. He said it gives principals flexibility and stressed that it is only part of the school district’s budget. There are a lot of other supports that come to schools, via central office and citywide programs, he said.
As has happened in the past, the school district will pad the schools that have lost the most students, providing extra infusions of money and teacher positions. Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova said the school district is distributing $50 million to small schools and another $5 million for the schools with the biggest enrollment drops.
“This will help to close the gap between large schools with economies of scale,” she said.
The school district will provide an additional $10 million more for preschool classrooms and says that by next year, four-year-olds in every neighborhood should have access to free full day programs.
It also is providing $39 million more for special education services. Principal Raven Patterson-Talley said her Woodlawn school is getting some of this additional special education money.
She said this is needed as her school continues to get more students with disabilities.
“When I became a principal, one of my top priorities was really to transform academic experiences for our diverse learners,” she said. “With these resources, we’ll be able to be more thoughtful about how we approach inclusion, and other best practices for our special education students.”
Chkoumbova and Martinez also touted relatively small increases to the budgets for bilingual education, counselors and for positions to support homeless students. High schools that have more than 300 athletes will get an athletic director. And the school district is continuing to hire nurses and social workers as it must do to meet the terms set out in the Chicago Teachers Union contract.