Leaders Point Fingers Over School Money Woes

Forrest Claypool file ap
In this July 16, 2015, file photo, Chicago Public Schools District CEO Forrest Claypool listens to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a news conference in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo
Forrest Claypool file ap
In this July 16, 2015, file photo, Chicago Public Schools District CEO Forrest Claypool listens to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a news conference in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo

Leaders Point Fingers Over School Money Woes

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There’s a lot of finger pointing going on among some of the people responsible for making sure Chicago’s public schools have money next school year.

The blame game started after Illinois lawmakers adjourned from the spring session without a budget or a solution that would release money to public schools across the state.

One plan would have increased spending on education by $900 million, but included no new revenue and included $200 million in state money for Chicago teachers’ pensions. It was overwhelmingly rejected in the House of Representatives and many Republicans called the failed plan a bailout of Chicago Public Schools.

Hours after that vote, Rauner toured several downstate Illinois locations to criticize House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and other Democratic lawmakers.

“They’re trying to force our schools to be held hostage for their bailout of Chicago. It’s wrong. We can’t let this happen,” Rauner said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shot back, likening Rauner to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“Right now schools across Illinois need a leader‎, and instead Bruce Rauner is following the Donald Trump playbook of demonizing one group of people for his political advantage,” Emanuel said in a statement Thursday.

Rauner responded, saying Emanuel must be getting lessons from one of his most vocal opponents - Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

Then Lewis jumped in, taking aim at Emanuel.  

“It’s not right to just blame Springfield,” she said. “The blame is in City Hall on the fifth floor.”

Lewis said Springfield does need to pitch in, but Emanuel hasn’t done enough to raise enough local revenue for public schools. She said he needs to put more skin in the game if he wants state lawmakers to act.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said he was shocked by Lewis’ comments and insisted that the city has transferred hundreds of millions of dollars to schools over the last few years.

“The Chicago Teachers Union is surrendering to Gov. Rauner and essentially letting the state off the hook for its responsibility to not only fund education, but to fund education equally,” he said.

Claypool supported a bill that would’ve changed how Illinois pays for public schools by sending additional money to districts based on need, like those with more poor children and more children learning English as a second language.

Meanwhile, Claypool was in a heated exchange with Rauner’s education secretary Beth Purvis, who asked him to put pressure on Democrats to support Rauner’s education funding plan.

Purvis asked if Claypool would support a plan that would allocate CPS the same amount of money it was given last year.

“If your answer is no,” Purvis wrote, “then you need to be honest and tell the people of Illinois that you are holding up school funding for the entire state so that Chicago will receive hundreds of millions more than it did last year – despite declining enrollment in Chicago Public Schools and a state in deep fiscal crisis.”

CPS is in a precarious financial position, having taken out the equivalent of a credit card with a $1 billion limit this year to make ends meet. Most of that line of credit will be used up after the district makes a required $676 million payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.

Claypool said late Wednesday that schools may not open on time if the state doesn’t release school money. The district will get its first wave of property tax money coming in August, but Claypool insisted it isn’t enough to open schools.

“That property tax revenue is pledged to the line of credit we’ve taken out to pay the nearly $700 million payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund that we have to make each year,” he said, noting that Chicago is the only district in the state that has to make that payment. The state pays for the pensions of suburban and downstate teachers.

As of publication, CPS did not provide WBEZ with an exact figure for how much money is expected to come through in the first wave of property tax money in August or if any would be left to open schools for a little while, absent a state education budget. Claypool would not say when school principals will get their budgets for next fall. In the past, they’ve been released in April or May.