No money for deseg plans

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Budget woes came to the forefront in today’s testimony on CPS’ bid to have its federal desegregation consent decree lifted.

Faced with an estimated $400 million shortfall next year, CPS didn’t
spend money to develop a detailed plan on how to integrate schools if
the decree is lifted, said Chief Education Officer Barbara
Eason-Watkins.

“We need to make sure that we spend our money wisely,” Watkins told
U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras. Should the decree be lifted,
she added, the district will undertake a lengthy process in which
“stakeholders”—teachers, parents and educators—can offer suggestions on
maintaining integration. District officials also will look at “best
practices” before deciding how admissions policies for selective and
magnet schools, which now take race and ethnicity into account, will
change.

Budget woes came to the forefront in today’s testimony on CPS’ bid to have its federal desegregation consent decree lifted.

Faced with an estimated $400 million shortfall next year, CPS didn’t spend money to develop a detailed plan on how to integrate schools if the decree is lifted, said Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins.

“We need to make sure that we spend our money wisely,” Watkins told U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras. Should the decree be lifted, she added, the district will undertake a lengthy process in which “stakeholders”—teachers, parents and educators—can offer suggestions on maintaining integration. District officials also will look at “best practices” before deciding how admissions policies for selective and magnet schools, which now take race and ethnicity into account, will change.

Eason-Watkins was the district’s final witness in the hearing, which was initially expected to take just a few days but has already stretched to eight days.

Besides requiring that the district make every effort to integrate schools and provide more resources for schools that cannot be integrated, the consent decree includes another provision (added in 2004) that requires CPS to provide adequate services to English language learners. 

Lawyers initially expected much of the hearing to center on whether the district had met that obligation to bilingual students; it seemed something of a foregone conclusion that the desegregation portion of the decree would be lifted.

But on the eve of the hearing, several organizations serving as friends of the court—the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund—submitted a brief arguing against lifting the desegregation portion of the decree because CPS had not revealed its plan to maintain integration.

Eason-Watkins assured the court that the district would maintain its magnet and selective schools and programs. But she would not say how or if transportation to these schools and programs—already limited—would still be provided. (In the past, former CEO Arne Duncan has argued that the district could save $300 million now spent on desegregation, most of which is spent on transportation.)

“You are asking me to give specifics before the process takes place,” Eason-Watkins said in response to a question asked by a Justice Department lawyer.

Through its previous witnesses and statements, CPS lawyers had broadly suggested the district might use the socio-economic status of a child’s neighborhood as a consideration in admissions. But exactly how that would work is still murky.

CPS lawyers used Eason-Watkins’ testimony to argue that the school system is doing a better job serving all its students, making desegregation efforts unnecessary. She testified about several press releases and glossy brochures published by the district that cite improvement in test scores. However, she didn’t explain that scores remain below state averages. She also said the district spends $188 million a year at those schools that have black or Latino enrollment that is 85 percent or higher.

 

The district’s ability to do more is limited because of the lack of state funding, Eason-Watkins said. “We are 49th out of 50 states in terms of funding,” she said. “New York receives $4,000 more per student. That would be about $1.2 billion a year.”