CTU President Jesse Sharkey sent the following message to CTU rank and file members on Sunday, March 20, after the Union’s preliminary weekend analysis of school budget information released to principals on Friday. The Union has not yet received the actual school by school budgets, nor has CPS released those individual school budgets to the public.

As you may have seen in the news, CPS sent school principals their budgets Friday, issuing a press release that admits that funding will be cut at no less than 40% of our schools, with elementary schools particularly in the crosshairs. The reason? The District’s ongoing use of Rahm Emanuel’s inherently inequitable student-based budgeting scheme – SBB – which ties school funding directly to enrollment instead of acute needs or longstanding equity issues in our school communities.

I’ll note that, incredibly, the impact could have been even greater had we not successfully fought for 2017 Springfield legislation that ensures that Chicago gets a much more equitable – and sizeable – portion of public education funding through the State of Illinois. And even with that crucial change, CPS remains underfunded by over $2 billion. The struggle remains to get more funds to CPS and for them to spend those dollars equitably LOCALLY, working with LSCs, neighborhood groups, students, parents, advocates and our neighbors and colleagues to demand better than these inequitable SBB budgets.

While CPS scheduled our budget briefing at 4:00 p.m. last Friday – and we STILL do not have school-by-school line-item budgets – we DO have the list of schools and budget amounts, and we’ve made a copy that you can view and download at this link. The overarching take-away: SBB continues to starve our schools, even as the mayor continues to draw fire for failing to adequately spend $2.8 billion in COVID relief funds in our schools.

Based on our initial review, it appears that Mayor Lightfoot’s CPS team is unwinding the reprieve for enrollment decline which they put in place for last year’s budgeting – where they had used ‘trending’ enrollment instead of actual enrollment to fund schools. That meant schools didn’t take as big of a hit last year for enrollment declines in the height of the pandemic. Now it appears CPS is using actual enrollments from last year, baking the decline into school budgets – and driving devastating cuts.

According to CPS’ current numbers, over 200 schools will see a cut – and of the schools getting cuts, 71% of schools are seeing cuts greater than $100,000, with an average cut of $208,000 – enough to fund at least two positions.

For example, Zapata’s proposed budget cut is nearly $900,000. Cardenas is confronting a budget cut of $600,000. Wadsworth – a school that is currently gaining students again – is confronting a cut of $300,000. Orozco is apparently seeing the largest percentage cut at 19%. How the mayor can cut the budget of a school by one fifth during a pandemic is beyond me. That’s just inhumane.

But that’s what SBB is: inhumane, inequitable and wrong. While nearly half of our elementary schools will take a hit of some kind, based on a rough geographic assessment, it appears that some of the mayor’s deepest cuts in this budget are hitting the Northwest, West and Southwest Sides. That’s not equity – when every one of our school communities deserves the right to recovery.

Be clear: while SBB has had its worst impacts on Black communities facing persistent enrollment loss, we now see the impacts of this failed funding scheme begin to hammer other communities as well, in particular gentrifying Latinx communities struggling with housing and enrollment issues. With the pandemic also intensifying enrollment drops, we are essentially seeing other communities ‘catch up’ to what’s been happening for a decade in Black communities.

We also anticipate that the mayor’s CPS team is setting the stage for much more substantial budget cuts in two years, as federal COVID relief funds wind down – and CPS can no longer use those funds to offset existing school costs.

SBB continues to warp our schools, drive destructive instability in our classrooms, and force schools to fight over students rather than collaborate to support our students’ success. In short, SBB must go – and every school community should see its needs fully funded. Watch for more information as individual school communities and their LSCs begin to see and review their budgets, and for a chance to get involved at your school in the campaign to force CPS to adequately fund our schools. Here’s a helpful piece from LAST year on advocating for your school’s needs during CPS’ budget process.

We shouldn’t have to battle SBB and its dire consequences each budget season, just as we shouldn’t have to battle for a windfall of life-changing COVID funds for our students and our schools. We also know we make our own justice, so once again, we’ll organize to stand with our students, parents, families, colleagues and allies against yet another round of austerity budgets. And nothing is as strong as our unity.

In safety and solidarity,

Jesse Sharkey,
CTU President