Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday June 14th, 2013, 2:16pm

CPS' Per-Student Budgets Will Exacerbate School Inequality, Education Experts Say

The Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) new per-student budgeting system spells big cuts for some schools, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and local school officials are learning.

CPS released next year’s individual school budgets to principals last week and, according to the CTU, schools across the city are seeing 10 percent to 25 percent cuts in funding. The union and education experts predict these cuts will lead to eliminated positions and more split-level classes, among other negative outcomes.

So far, a handful of schools have reported to seeing their budgets slashed by more than one million dollars.

“What we’re going to see is a degradation of education in neighborhood public schools, which is likely to result in even a widening of the inequalities that we already have in CPS,” said Pauline Lipman, professor of educational policy studies and director of the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

CTU has called out CPS for failing to pursue other revenue streams before making cuts. The union said redirecting tax increment financing (TIF) surpluses back to CPS or ending tax loopholes are some possible ways to bring funds to the cash-strapped district.

“There is a literal wealth of revenue that the district has ignored,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement. “CPS claims to act in the interest of the children, but by cutting budgets up to 25 percent in lieu of going after potentially billions of dollars, one has to ask just how much are they really doing?”

The Illinois General Assembly did not approve a measure before the spring session ended that would have extended a pension vacation for the district, allowing them to continue making smaller pension payments over the next two years.

As a result, CPS, which is facing a reported $1 billion budget deficit, will have to pay $612 million in pension payments for the 2014 budgetary year, beginning July 1.

Raising a new tax levy for pensions would help CPS stabilize its budget, allowing the district to pay its pension payment costs in full, the union argues.

CTU says a fair tax structure and a tax on financial transactions will bring in more than $6 billion in revenue for schools.

Lipman said that a one-tenth of a penny tax for each Chicago Board of Trade financial transaction, for example, would bring in much-needed revenue annually.

“We have a very inequitable tax structure in the state," Lipman added. "Tax reform that would require the corporations and the rich to pay their fair share would also generate millions of dollars.”

Emanuel is also sitting on a huge TIF fund, Lipman said, which he does not hesitate to tap into for development projects like the recent plan for a new DePaul University basketball arena near McCormick Place.

CPS says the new budgeting model gives principals greater control over how funds are spent in their schools. The previous budget model, which gave principals funds for staff positions, is anoutdated formula that dictated specific numbers and types of positions to fill within their schools,” CPS argues.

According to the distict, the per-student budgeting model will create greater funding consistency across the district. The new budgets do not include cuts to positions or core programs, a CPS spokeswoman stressed in an emailed statement to DNAinfo Chicago.

But declining enrollment in some schools means less per-student funds, meaning principals may have to eliminate positions or hire less-experienced teachers.

William Howard Taft High School's budget, for example, is being slashed by $3 million, while Theodore Roosevelt High School is facing a $1.1 million cut.

“Principals are going to have to figure out how to allocate their per-pupil budgets in a way in which they can still run their schools with these kinds of cuts,” Lipman said. “They're certainly going to be tempted to higher cheaper teachers given that they have less revenue. That seems pretty obvious.”

Lipman said she is also concerned the new funding scheme will result in schools competing for students in efforts to ramp up their budgets. She said she is particularly worried that large charter school chains, which have big budgets for marketing, will be able to lure more students away from traditional neighborhood schools. Under the new funding formula, charters will receive the same per-pupil funding as other schools.

“Does that mean that public schools are going to have to start allocating part of their budgets to market their schools in order to attract students, rather than using their budgets to educate the students,” Lipman asked.

Students with special needs are also expected to be impacted.

Blair Early Childhood Center will see a 75 percent reduction in its budget for next school year, meaning seven special education teachers, one general teacher and other positions may be cut. Northside Learning Center High School, which serves students with cognitive disabilities, could lose eight special education instructors and 14 teacher aides, according to CTU.

And more schools may have to offer split-level classes, where two grades are merged into one classroom.

Ellen Mitchell Elementary's budget, for example, is $780,000 less than last year, which accounts for 7.8 positions or one-third of the school’s staff, according to CTU. Since Mitchell has just one class per grade, it will likely have to have split-level classes. Other school officials are also telling CTU that their schools may have to eliminate librarian positions.

Other schools that have reported big cuts include: John F. Eberhart Elementary down $1.5 million; Edwin G Foreman High School down $1.7 million; Gage Park High School down $1 million; Kenwood Academy High School down $1.76 million; and Lincoln Park High School down $900,000 to $1 million, among others.

Lipman said the cuts are “outrageous” given that the Chicago Board of Education voted last month to close 50 neighborhood schools on the grounds that CPS would provide a higher-quality education to children.

“These cuts seem to indicate that exactly the opposite is going to happen,” she said.

And this shows CPS’ “extreme incompetence," Lipman said.

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