Time for lawmakers to get serious about funding reform

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Public education in Illinois is facing a major budget crisis. On March 28, Schools Chief Arne Duncan informed all Chicago Public Schools principals that they must slash their existing budgets in the face of a $175 million shortfall in the state budget for Chicago schools. But there is no “fat” to cut from our lean CPS budgets, and thus public schools are being asked to cut the “meat” out of our students’ education. Teaching positions, special education, Advanced Placement classes, and counseling departments—these are all on the chopping block at our schools.

As members of CPS high school local school councils, we are particularly aware of the already lean condition of our school budgets. If these budget cuts are implemented, the ability of CPS schools to provide quality educational experiences to students will be in serious jeopardy. We call upon our policymakers to immediately address this crisis.

To add insult to injury, CPS has just issued bills to every high school “taxing” them $2 per computer per month for the “privilege” of networking with the district’s server. This is to be paid out of discretionary funds.

What discretionary funds? Our schools are already using every penny of available funds, from Title I monies to parent fundraising dollars, to pay for educational necessities to supplement meager college counseling department allocations, and to pay for student transportation and music and art supplies.

It is time for politicians who have made promises to improve education in Illinois to step up and make the hard choices in favor of the children in this state. State funding for education in Illinois is 49th in the nation. We have lived with this shameful statistic for too many years.

Two things must be done—and done quickly: First, Gov. Blagojevich and the General Assembly must immediately shift their budget priorities and fully fund public education. Second, the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Blagojevich must introduce legislation to truly reform state funding for education. The governor’s recent proposal to close the education funding gap by expanding gambling positions has been tried in the past and failed. At best, it is a temporary fix for a much larger problem. The prospect of increased revenues from gambling won’t address the coming school year’s shortfall in any event.

In 1988, Chicago’s public schools were called “the worst in the nation.” In 1999, Congress heard testimony in praise of Mayor Daley, Gery Chico and Paul Vallas and touted Chicago Public Schools as a model for school reform. As schools improved, Mayor Daley’s vision was realized—middle-class families stayed in the city and returned to the public schools, improving the tax base and stabilizing neighborhoods. But those advances are now in danger of being eroded.

Parents, teachers, Illinois citizens—it is time to stand up and demand that Gov. Blagojevich and all of our elected state officials live up to their campaign promises. Gov. Blagojevich, it is time to show true leadership. Restore the 2005-2006 budget for elementary and secondary public education and find a formula for fully and fairly funding public education in Illinois in the future. The time is now. The future of our children and our state is at stake.

Local school councils of: Jones College Prep, Lane Tech, Lincoln Park, Northside College Prep, Mather, Von Steuben, Payton College Prep and Whitney M. Young Magnet