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Emanuel’s school budget sets stage for mass closings of Black and Latino schools.

by ctu communications  |  10/10/2017

CHICAGO, October 10, 2017—Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis delivered the following testimony today to the Chicago Board of Education, urging them to reject a budget that bakes in hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts that harm the system’s Black and Brown children and to instead find new revenue to fairly fund public education. 

Karen Lewis' remarks:

I come before you today to say that, sadly, this proposed new budget falls short in every possible way: it fails to serve our students. It fails to support our dedicated workforce of educators. And it fails to provide our neighborhoods with the sustainable community schools they demand and they deserve – a commitment enshrined in Section 12-2 on page 56 of the CTU’s contract with the board.

In fact, CPS and mayor Emanuel have flipped the intent of this summer’s landmark school funding reform, at the same time that CPS representatives are making the rounds to our neighborhoods to lay the groundwork to close even more public schools. 

This so-called ‘balanced’ budget bakes in more than $400 million in cuts to low-income and special education students. This budget uses Mayor Emanuel's fundamentally unfair ‘student-based budgeting’ scheme to rob Black and Brown students of resources. And this budget relies on years of layoffs of thousands of experienced Black and Latino educators with deep ties to the students we serve.

Your goal SHOULD be to fund what works and what we need – lower class sizes in early grades, libraries staffed with certified librarians, counselors who can actually counsel, social workers who can support students with significant trauma, and a broad and rich curriculum that doesn’t force schools to choose between art and music or math and reading. The money to do that exists – through a corporate head tax and surplus funds from record and rising TIF collections. You must immediately demand this additional revenue to support our schools -- not rubber stamp additional cuts that harm our most vulnerable.

This budget picks winners and losers and harms the most vulnerable students in the city with the greatest cuts – in a way that is both racist and immoral, and a betrayal of public education as a right for all our students.

In short, this hand-picked board is seeking to pass a budget crafted by the mayor’s hand-picked school bosses to force additional closings of Black and Latino schools – a lethal strategy for our students which we vehemently oppose. Just as charter expansion drives school budget meltdowns as schools compete for dwindling students, this budget is guaranteed to further push students out.

Finally, this budget will force the ongoing layoff of teachers and support staff who play critical roles in the lives of their students and the larger community – with the bulk of those layoffs falling once again most harshly on the shoulders of Black female educators. Our students deserve better. Our neighborhoods deserve better. And our union will fight tooth and nail with our community allies to ensure that our students receive better, because they deserve it and fairness and equity demands it.

Let me say a few words about the equity elements of the new evidence-based model that this budget and this administration continues to reject. A key principle of the new law is that schools serving low-income students, English learners, and students with special needs would receive additional resources -- and those schools that are most underfunded would get new money first.

It was on this principle of equity that CPS received $76 million in new money.

But by continuing to use student-based budgeting (SBB), you most harm those students who the new state formula is designed to help. SBB treats every student the same, regardless of need.

So those schools serving large numbers of low-income students -- children who invariably come to school with with more needs -- receive the same, instead of more, than those schools serving more affluent students with fewer special needs. Predominantly Black and Latino schools have seen much deeper cuts to their budgets than schools with larger populations of white students.

Schools with the most intensive poverty and segregation face the biggest hurdles to attaining high test scores, yet CPS penalizes those schools in its accountability system -- labeling them “bad” or “failing”, placing them at risk of decreasing enrollment and even fewer resources, more staff cuts, and the risk of closure.

Rather than holding schools harmless, as the new state law does, the mayor’s and this board’s budgeting system punishes low-income schools and further attacks neighborhoods already subject to the wholesale elimination of affordable housing, widespread unemployment, and a surge in violent crime.

Remember, when he came to office, mayor Emanuel said 25% of the kids in Chicago weren’t worth educating. This budget reflects that sentiment, even if the mayor has stopped using this rhetoric in his public comments.

What are the consequences of these deep cuts? What are the consequences of your unfair funding policies?

  • Today our schools have 139 librarians, down from 454 in 2012 -- 70% fewer than just five years ago.
  • Our student-counselor ratio is 326 children to 1 counselor. We have virtually NO counselors to help high school students plan for life after graduation, at the same time that your new graduation policy denies students the diploma they’ve earned if they don’t have a job, don’t want to be pushed into in the military or cannot afford to get into college.
  • A student-social worker ratio of 1,100 to 1. Let me say that again: one counselor for every one thousand one hundred studets -- at a time of an historic spike in violence across large portions of our city, and the deep trauma that violence creates for our students.
  • Dramatic cuts to special education teachers and support staff. Today we have 280 fewer SpEd teachers than just two years ago, with Black and Latino students disproportionately impacted. Yet CPS would rather sit on those funds than spend them. And when schools appeal special ed cuts, it is Black and Latinx schools that are hit the hardest. According to the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association, in the CPS appeals process, the 10 schools with the highest percentage of white students received over one million dollars. The ten schools with the lowest percentage of white students got zero. ZERO.
  • Classroom overcrowding remains a terrible problem in many of our schools, with upwards of 40 students in some classes, and more than 30 children in some kindergarden classrooms -- twice the number of children recommended for these early learners.

For a student body that is overwhelmingly Black and Brown, these shortfalls are nothing short of racist. Not one of you as board members would tolerate these conditions at your child’s school -- yet those are the conditions that this ‘new’ budget perpetuates for our students.

And that same racism plagues CPS hiring and firing policies. Ten years ago, more than 31% of our teachers were Black. Today, that number is barely 20%. We know that students who are exposed to a diverse teaching force -- and in our overwhelmingly Black and Brown system, to educators who look like them -- have better educational outcomes and better life outcomes.

Yet it is Black teachers -- our most experienced educators, and overwhelmingly women -- who continue to bear the brunt of layoffs. The number of Black educators has fallen by 18% in just the last four years, and almost 80 percent of the teachers and support staff who were laid off in 20th Day cuts just this month were Black and Latino.

There is another path forward. It’s time to end the Trump-like policies that have been at the heart of CPS policy for the last seven years:

  • It’s time to end the endless attacks on our workers -- especially Black women, who’ve been laid off at appalling rates as the mayor seeks to purge Black and Brown people from the public payroll and from our neighborhoods. 
  • It’s time to end CPS’ unsustainable borrowing -- much of this debt at payday loan rates that will burden coming generations. CPS will spend upwards of $600 million this year on debt service -- perhaps more -- and has borrowed at rates as high as 9%. That is, conservatively, $1,600 in debt PER STUDENT -- dollars that should be going into our childrens’ classrooms, not the pockets of rich banksters.
  • Finally, it’s time to ensure that rich people pay their fair share.

We need NEW revenue -- not just another property tax that falls hardest on working families, while the wealthy and politically connected game the system to avoid paying their fair share. We need every penny of every TIF surplus to be turned back to fund our neighborhood schools, where those dollars belong. We need the mayor to reinstate the corporate head tax that he eliminated just after he took office as a favor to his rich friends and donors.

And we need a commitment from this board that it will NOT CLOSE ONE MORE SCHOOL that serves our Black and Brown students and communities -- whether those are elementary schools in Austin and Humboldt Park or neighborhood high schools on the South Side.

We need a commitment from this board that it will NOT GIVE ONE MORE CHARTER OPERATOR the chance to rob our public schools of resources while they exploit their own workforce and fatten their own wallets.

We need a commitment from this board to FUND THE FORMULA passed in Springfield this summer -- and to employ that much more equitable formula for our students, instead of remaining SILENT about the four billion dollar shortfall of necessary funding to make this more equitable formula work for our children.

This board has been SILENT about increased funding to for-profit charter school operators. And this board has tacitly EMBRACED the creation of a tax shelter for the rich that doubles as a voucher program to rob our public schools of even more funds. This board has been SILENT about demanding that CPS fund the dozens of community schools that were promised in our contract for our communities. That’s just wrong.

Our neighborhoods are struggling from Great Depression Era levels of unemployment on the south and west sides of the city. This budget perpetuates that cycle of impoverishment and disinvestment -- by refusing to invest in the public schools that are in some neighborhoods the only positive anchors of civic commitment left standing.

We know that education is a leg up and a path out of poverty for our students. Instead, with this budget, you preserve the cuts that have accelerated the devastation of our neediest neighborhoods.

These policies of death by a thousand cuts must end. Reject the funding cuts embedded in this budget and instead do what’s right for our students: fund the formula, end the attack on Black and Brown neighborhood public schools, and give our classrooms the resources they need to put our students on a path of lifelong learning and success.

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The Chicago Teachers Union represents nearly 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at

Chicago Teachers Union