Late last week, the Chicago Board of Education announced a new round of budget cuts in the individual school level. According to the district's pr release, issued on September 25th:
The Chicago Public Schools-took the next phase in its school budgeting process, providing principals with adjusted school budgets to mirror their actual enrollment, leading to increased funding for schools which had more students than projected and decreased funding for schools with fewer students than projected. Previously two years, CPS hasn't reduced schools' funding when their enrollment fell short of projections, however this year budgetary constraints imply that the district can't afford to hold those schools harmless.
These new reductions came following the school board had spent the summer wrestling with how you can balance their budget. To be able to open school this September, the board had been instructed to borrow more than $1 billion, laid off more than 1,000 employees, and make major reductions in individual school budgets. As difficult because these actions were, schools opened according to staffing plans based on that budget.
According to CPS watchdog Catalyst Chicago, the district's latest action was driven by enrollment data (which may be downloaded here) showing district-run schools were losing an even greater number of students than was predicted earlier around while charter and contract schools were educating slightly more CPS students:
\”The lower enrollment means district-run schools will receive about $15.9 million under was projected in July. (Unlike in previous years, CPS officials are not holding schools harmless if fewer students enroll than was projected.) Those additional cuts include about $13.3 million in funds set aside for per-pupil disbursement, as well as 52.5 fewer special education aides and 16.5 fewer special education teachers-. District officials say about 325 educators could lose their jobs as their school didn't meet enrollment projections.\”
Schools facing budget reductions must now deal with restructuring an educational program that's been functioning for any month. For example, Kelvyn Park High was expected to lose 125 students and $1.7 million. The school administration cut 19 personnel, including nine teachers, a career coach, a college counselor, and the school's only full-time social worker. But since 77 fewer students turned up than projected, they've got to cut another $496,000.
Mid-year reductions to special education funding brought a particularly strong response, with parents warning the district that they were willing to go to the courts to ensure federal requirements continued to be met. Rod Estvan from the advocacy group Access Living told the school board, \”Cuts to special education following the school year begins are unprecedented. [-] The need for special education teachers grows throughout the year as students are properly identified.\”
The timing of this new round of budget cuts reflects more than the possible lack of ample and stable funding for Chicago's 400,000 students. Which was the problem being addressed as the district's budget was finalized over the summer. This new round of cuts is definitely an indicator of 1 of the unique challenges of the educational reform strategy that emphasizes school choice. Because every student has the capacity to consider attending one of the more than 400 schools directly operated by CPS and the over 100 independently operated charter schools that serve the City of Chicago, projecting enrollment and allocating the district's resources becomes a lot more difficult. With attendance based not just on community demographics but additionally around the success of the school's recruitment efforts, it is difficult to accurately project who the \”winners\” and the \”losers\” will be. And also the real losers become the students in schools who're instructed to make cuts and adjust educational plans which are already underway.
And as painful as this round is, the district's balanced budget counted on almost half a billion dollars in new state educational funding. Using the state's budget still in limbo as political leaders still skirmish, these new funds are not certain. If they are not realized, how CPS may change but still keep teaching its students is unclear.