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Budget cuts cost Chicago public school classrooms $400 million annually

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union Education Policy Department today released analysis of the Chicago Public Schools budget gap as Chicago’s elected and appointed leaders grapple with fulfilling their obligation to the city’s nearly 400,000 public school students and their families. The CTU has found that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked CPS CEO Forrest Claypool have slashed $400 million from Chicago public schools over the past two years, and asks district leadership to stop the barrage of cuts by supporting a corporate head tax, which would fund schools and return jobs to the South and West sides of the city.

The Union also recommends closing the carried interest loophole at the state level, which would generate nearly $2 billion, and passing the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Surplus Ordinance in the Chicago City Council. This ordinance would help ensure the long-term stability of schools by mandating that surplus TIF funds be directed in their entirety to the school district in any year where CPS is in financial distress.

Any aldermen opposing this ordinance are effectively endorsing cuts to schools in their ward from Emanuel and Claypool, who are relying on a failed strategy to bring revenue for schools to Chicago from Springfield.

“While the state has the primary responsibility to fund education in Chicago, our school communities cannot wait for the governor’s cold heart to thaw before we try to help them,” CTU President Karen Lewis said. “Bruce Rauner has made it clear to everyone in the state that he has zero intentions on governing.”

CPS administration responded to its structural revenue shortfall this year by driving the district into more debt, piling on $35 million in interest for a short-term loan of $1.5 billion just to manage cash flow. While going further into debt, however, and insisting that cuts and “efficiencies” can make up the difference, CPS turned a blind eye to appeals from special education advocates and neighborhood schools desperate for more funding to sustain essential programs.

Now that the district is maxed out on borrowing, and Springfield remains deadlocked, even more cuts are threatened.

“Chicago is in a unique position as the mayor controls the city and the school district, and surely has the ability to find municipal revenue to meet the short-term budget needs of CPS,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said. “But instead, he is clearly hedging his bets, stalling and delaying to put pressure on Springfield, and is likely preparing to either stiff retirees or make CPS budget announcements with further drastic cuts to our classrooms.”

Schools cannot suffer one more cut. Claypool, currently the subject of a “no confidence” vote among more than 25,000 teachers, clinicians and paraprofessionals throughout the district, took a hatchet to school budgets over the last two years, starting by slashing per pupil funding in the middle of last year. Those cuts were extended into this year, resulting in a $120 million loss to school budgets.

ILLUSTRATION: CPS budget

The CPS budget need chart above shows where cuts have been made in the district over the past two years. Filling the current $129 million deficit plus the restoration of four furlough days would net $164 million. That total added to the restoration of this year’s mid-year freeze on non-staff spending, poverty grants and professional development cuts is $215 million, which, added to the restoration of this year’s special education and vacant position cuts is $280 million. The restoration of last year’s student-based budgeting cut of 5 percent ($120 million) brings the total to $400 million.  

Further, Claypool has withheld special education funds, closed special education positions, imposed furloughs and froze school poverty grants, all while hovering a doomsday scenario of a two-week cut to the school year. The district also spent millions to unsuccessfully sue the state under the guise of being torchbearers in the fight for racial equity.

But this administration’s own decisions to cut school budgets—from the years of cuts to librarian staff to this year’s freeze on non-staff school spending—and withhold special education funds have created new racial disparities, and intensified existing ones within the school district.

What the district needs is revenue, but “winning revenue for CPS is only one piece of the solution,” according to CTU Legislative and Political Director Stacy Davis Gates.

“We need to put an end to mayoral control, because it is abundantly clear that this job is too big for the mayor,” Davis Gates said. “Chicago needs an elected school board, educators must have a stronger voice, and it is the time for the mayor to do what's right.”

Chicago Teachers Union