It’s August, yet it’s chilly enough in Chicago to roast marshmallows. That’s what some friends from our daughter’s preschool invited us to do over the weekend. Most everyone who came has kids or grandkids in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Among the parents, there were two teachers and a principal.
We’re all pretty nervous right now, and not just from the eerie chill in the air. Though we know our kids are going back to school soon, we don’t know how long they’ll be able to keep going to school. That’s because Illinois can’t pay its schools until it adopts a new funding formula, and our governor just vetoed the one the legislature passed. If there’s no formula in place by August 10, no school in Illinois will get funded for the new school year. Districts say they can open their doors, but without their usual payments, most say they can only last a few months. Uh-oh.
Already, the picture is looking pretty bleak. Chicago Public Schools is holding off on releasing its overall budget, pending word from Springfield. Schools have been waiting all summer to learn how much money they have to work with, and CPS had to give them something. It’s not pretty.
Around the fire, the principal told us he just got his school’s budget last Friday. After paying for staff salaries, he had only $4,000 left for everything else: books, computers, supplies, toilet paper. He’s cutting a part-time staffer to build in some breathing room. He wanted to free up a teacher to have an assistant administrator, but in the current fiscal climate, that’s a pipe dream.
Can We Beat The Bully One More Time?
Beyond Chicago, plenty of other families and educators are worried, too. Though Gov. Rauner claims his veto was only intended to red-pen provisions he calls special favors to Chicago, districts around the state will lose money without the new funding formula. Sharp-eyed state politics watchdog Greg Hinz took one look at the maps of districts affected and wrote, “If nothing else, they suggest the governor is doing a lot more than ending what he terms ‘a bailout’ for CPS.”
People think of suburban districts as White and wealthy enough to be insulated from equity issues, but increasingly, inner-ring suburbs are struggling to serve greater concentrations of children in poverty and children of color. Cook County’s south suburbs are one such area.
Kimako Patterson, superintendent of Prairie-Hills Elementary District 144, says her schools will be handing out school supplies on their own dime to make sure all students start prepared. “We purchase tons of school supplies every year, because we have students who will arrive in our buildings without paper, pencils or book bags,” she recently told my fellow education blogger Tracy Dell’Angela.
Here in Illinois, it might take a miracle to pull this school year out of the fire. Strangely, we just got one miracle about a month ago, when state Republicans and Democrats came together to override one Gov. Rauner veto and pass a budget for the first time in more than two years.
Can they stand up to the bully one more time and fight for educational equity for kids all over the state? I sure hope so.