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Chicago schools need more state money? How much per kid?

Are you sitting down? Seriously, maybe you should grab a chair and have a stiff drink. This is going to piss you off (unless you don't have a pulse).

The Chicago Public School budget for 2024 is $9.4 billion. $4.8 billion is scheduled to go to schools and the rest goes to administrative functions (ergo 49% to the mother ship). That comes out to $28,500 per student. By the way, Wilmette Illinois spends...drum roll please...$20,865 per student.

Of course the quality of the education the City kids get, their performance on any type of objective tests and graduation rates are disappointing beyond description. Never has anyone spent some much to receive so little.

Just kidding, I haven't talked about the US Dept of Defense yet!

CTU negotiations will feature a new battleground this year: Springfield

While the mayor and union appear in lockstep on their vision for the school system, the city likely won’t have the money for more staffing and resources in schools. So the CTU says it’s shifting its target from City Hall to Springfield.

By Nader Issa and Sarah Karp | WBEZ

Mar 26, 2024, 4:30am MDT

The past five years have brought a Chicago Teachers Union strike and two pandemic-era school reopening showdowns with the mayor’s office.

The teachers union is heading back to the bargaining table to work out a new contract this spring. But it should be smoother sailing this time with one of its own as mayor in former union organizer Brandon Johnson — right?

Not necessarily.

While the mayor and CTU appear in lockstep on their vision for the school system, the city likely won’t have the money to pay for the union’s costly proposals for more staffing and resources in schools. So the CTU says it’s shifting its target from City Hall to Springfield to demand more funding for Chicago Public Schools. And that’s a tough sell as the state faces its own financial constraints.

“We have a middle school teacher and the father of public school students who is the mayor of Chicago, and we don't believe that the intensity of the fights we had with Rahm Emanuel and Lori Lightfoot are going to be the fights we have this time,” CTU President Stacy Davis Gates said in an interview.

“We intend to bargain about the resources, programming, classes and activities that make up public school and what it has to look like in Chicago to be sustainable. That's our work in this contract fight,” she said. “And that contract fight will take us … to Springfield and to Washington, D.C.

The CTU would hardly be the first to push for more state funding for CPS. Schools CEO Pedro Martinez, hired by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, has long said the district needs more to adequately serve its students. So did Lightfoot’s Board of Education.

Pandemic relief funding is set to run out this fall, exposing a $391 million deficit in the CPS budget next school year. Help from the state is likely the only way to get art and music classes, librarians and other programming into schools like the CTU, the mayor, CPS officials and parent groups want for under-resourced schools that are mostly concentrated in Black communities. District officials last month pointed to a best-in-the-nation reading recovery from pandemic learning loss as a sign they’re doing the right things.

It’s unclear if the CTU would act against the state, such as the extreme step of walking out of schools. But it wouldn’t be unprecedented. The CTU walked out for a day in 2016 when CPS furloughed teachers for three days in an action meant to call for more state funding after a budget standoff under former Gov. Bruce Rauner. The CTU contract signed in 2019 expires at the end of June.

But Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state lawmakers are also facing their own financial challenges as pandemic relief funding also runs out for Illinois.

Pritzker’s budget proposal released in late February boosts overall education funding by more than $650 million next year, including $350 million to the K-12 school funding formula. That’s typical of the past few years, but advocates in Chicago are pushing for more this year since CPS needs another $1.1 billion by the state’s own estimation to adequately serve its students.

The Illinois State Board of Education has said it would take increases of $850 million in each of the next three years to reach 90% adequacy in the state’s funding formula as the law calls for.

Insiders have indicated there’s little appetite in Springfield to work with the CTU when money is tight and other school districts will want more funding, too. Johnson’s relationship with Springfield is also off to a rocky start, from disagreements over the handling of the migrant crisis to elected school board legislation.

Asked how state lawmakers would handle an approach from the CTU, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said in a statement, “We look forward to working with all stakeholders to maximize our investments in public schools.”

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said some lawmakers understand the city’s public school system is facing financial constraints and could use the state’s help. There’s an eagerness to make sure the district gets the resources it needs, he said. But he stressed that the state also has its own “challenging budget environment.”

“Myself and a lot of the legislators who represent the city of Chicago, we know that we have to do everything we can to support CPS and make sure that the district can be financially solvent,” Guzzardi said.

Still, Davis Gates said Chicago legislators are going to “have a hard time coming back up here without any additional funding for schools” in the spring legislative session.

“I'm pretty sure that the intensity of our fights in Chicago is not the intensity that's desired in the House, in the Senate or in the governor's office,” she said.

Asked if he would support CTU job actions against the state for more funding, Johnson didn’t reject the idea, saying it would be up to the union to decide those steps.

“Same applies to what community organizations do. It's also true of the faith community,” the mayor said. “Whatever those particular interests decide to do to put pressure on all of us, whether that's locally, whether that's the state of Illinois and the federal government, they're well within their right to do that.”

Johnson said his office would take a lead in asking for more funding, calling it his responsibility to advocate for families who want CPS to be fully funded so they “don't have to go through the arduous process and task of having a wish list and then seeking out that wish list outside of their neighborhood.”

Bob Bruno, a University of Illinois labor professor who has studied the CTU and wrote a book on the 2012 teachers strike, said it would make for a “formidable coalition” if the union, mayor’s office and community groups aligned in their message to lawmakers. But he said it’s unclear how effective that campaign could be — or how far the CTU would go.

Meeting with the education committee chairs or Senate and House leadership could be the start, Bruno said, but the union could hold public rallies and press conferences in Springfield and escalate from there.

“Depending on the kind of response that you’re getting from Springfield will really determine what level of action is most appropriate,” Bruno said.

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