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Flush with cash, mayor’s CPS team pushes budget cuts at 40 percent of schools

CPS is proposing more than 200 schools receive budget cuts of more than $42 million, at a time when the district is sitting on billions in federal stimulus money. That’s just half a percentage point of the annual operating budget, or just 1.5 percent of the total $2.6 billion plus in federal COVID relief CPS has received since 2020.

The mayor’s CPS team easily could have filled these budget gaps with federal funds. Instead, the district continues to be wedded to its inequitable and widely despised Student Based Budget formula foisted on schools under Rahm Emanuel.

“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,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “It’s time for CPS to end SBB and instead fund every school equitably.”

Schools get slammed

While a majority of schools will see nominal increases, the impact for the schools receiving cuts are huge: 10 schools will get slammed with cuts of more than $500,000 and 38 will see a cut of $300,000 to $500,000. The next level, cuts of $200,000 to $300,000, will impact 38 schools and 60 schools will see budgets slashed by $100,000 to $200,000.

In other words, of the schools seeing budget cuts, 71 percent will lose more than $100,000, enough funding for at least one staff position. And if we account for the fact that schools must budget for 3.5 percent cost of living adjustments for staff, the number of schools seeing either cuts or no additional resources rises to roughly 313, or 60 percent of our schools.

As it’s been for the last decade, the budget cuts are being driven by the CPS funding formula and the impact of enrollment declines during the pandemic. During last year’s budget process, CPS lessened the impact of steep enrollment declines. But, instead of using federal funding to preserve continuity of services, CPS is now baking in those enrollment declines into school budgets for next year, driving the steep cuts at schools. And, although the district has designated an “offset” of funds for the hardest hit schools, the amount of the offset does not come close to making schools whole.

These cuts are particularly acute across schools such as Zapata and Orozco, Latinx schools located in communities struggling with housing affordability. Orozco will lose one fifth of its budget.

SBB hits Black school hardest

SBB has drained schools across the city of resources since its implementation at the end of 2013, right after 50 schools were closed mostly on the South and West Side. Black communities were particularly impacted by SBB, as their programming and resources were hit by the death spiral of budget cuts, resource decline, and further enrollment declines. But over the last years, we had started to see SBB impact schools across Chicago, especially in gentrifying communities such as in Pilsen and Little Village.

While there are advances in district-budgeted positions, won through our historic 2019 strike — 53 more counselor positions, additional nurses, 23 new STLS coordinators, new bilingual supports, and more — these were gains meant to address structural equity gaps that had existed in CPS for decades. Prior to the pandemic, the district’s funding gap, calculated by the state formulas, topped $2 billion in annual unmet needs.

And while 40 percent of schools face cuts, the district is sitting on $370 million plus in unspent “recovery” funding for this school year, 70 percent of the amount budgeted to spend. Now schools are scrambling to spend that funding before the district takes it back. Many of these schools with unspent funds are facing budget cuts for next year.

Failure to spend

At its March meeting, some CPS board members criticized the district for its failure to spend the funding, but this was the path explicitly taken and supported by the board this past summer. At the time, Board President Del Valle explicitly argued against a spending plan that would mean creating full-time positions at schools right now, asserting the fear of falling off a future financial cliff. Instead, the year is almost over and schools have yet to get their tutoring and after-school programming off the ground.

But in addition to those unspent school funds, there is still well over $1 billion in federal funds yet to be budgeted through the next two years. The release of these federal dollars were meant to ensure stability and recovery. The district’s spending plans and their continued adherence to punishing schools for enrollment losses do neither. CPS must change course towards a recovery budget if they truly hope to have a “recovery year.”

Pavlyn Jankov is an Education Policy Analyst at CTU.