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New member-created curriculum lets students take center stage in advocating for a CPS budget that meets their needs.

Chicago Public Schools Stimulus Budget: What values does a pandemic school budget reflect?

How should CPS spend the extra $2.3 billion the district is receiving in pandemic relief funds from the federal government? To answer that question, a group of CTU members across the district is asking their students.

A number of educators at high schools and middle schools have developed and begun to pilot a CPS Stimulus Budget curriculum. The curriculum aims to provide students the tools to influence these investment decisions. They hope it will provide students with a powerful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to impact the CPS budget process.

To put these extra funds in context, CPS says the Union’s 2019 contract costs $120 million per year to implement. The $2.3 billion in federal relief funds heading to CPS coffers is about 20 times that amount. Imagine the possibilities to address systemic inequities, racism, lack of mental health infrastructure, student homelessness, and a myriad of school needs.

The curriculum in action

Dozens of educators from different schools are teaching the lessons after spring break. They’ve agreed to bring students together for a Youth Summit later this spring. The educators hope it will encourage citywide action and student mobilization around the issues they care about most.

Bogan teacher Marilen Corres said she taught the budget curriculum because she “wanted to figure out ways to empower our students.” Cynthia Jones, a teacher at Hammond Elementary, told CTU’s curriculum committee, “I definitely want to bring this back to my student voice committee.” Celeste Larkin, a teacher at Lane Tech plans to “spread it around to my school and continue to figure out how students and teachers can plug in and organize together around this critical issue.”

Not everyone is comfortable teaching budgets. Heather Ingram, an English teacher at Goode Stem High, is one of them. “Although budgets scare me, when I looked at the curriculum, this is a substantial amount of money. And as a CPS graduate, I know this is important,” she said.

For Nick Lucas, a student teacher at Back of The Yards High School, students really connected with the lesson. “Lots of kids talk about sports. They say they don’t have enough equipment,” he said. “We have to help them realize that this money is real. And, if we don’t do anything, a bunch of contractors will get [the money] instead of our communities.”

Making student ideas a reality

Student teacher Cecilia Soto noticed some trends from her work with the curriculum. “Mental health is a top concern of students, along with accessing resources for ELL and special ed students, providing housing for homeless families, and providing economic support for families,” she said.

Students’ ideas for that support include free internet for all, family food vouchers and summer jobs for students. Another key finding: Like CTU members and many parents, students don’t trust CPS to allocate funds in a way that truly meets the needs of their communities.

On Saturday, April 24, CTU will host a youth summit for our students and members to come together and begin working to create a participatory budget process that reflects our vision and interests. Register for the summit and invite your students to attend.

We can come together to ensure our students have a real voice in a process that is supposed to benefit them and their communities. Students plan to speak out at the April 26 CPS Board meeting. Reach out to Rebecca Martinez at RebeccaMartinez@ctulocal1.org if you want to join the work to ensure a just and democratic pandemic budget for our school communities.

Jackson Potter teaches social studies at Back of the Yards High School.