Massive budget cuts on the horizon for Chicago schools

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CEO Ron Huberman is preparing for another round of budget cuts to hit this school year and to issue a major announcement about next year’s cuts to close the district’s estimated $800 million budget gap. The immediate budget reductions would be instituted to deal with the state’s failure to pay out about $207 million that it owes the district. But this year’s cuts will pale in comparison to what Huberman is planning for next year–including possible cuts to charter schools.

CEO Ron Huberman is preparing for another round of budget cuts to hit this school year and to issue a major announcement about next year’s cuts to close the district’s estimated $800 million budget gap.  

The immediate budget reductions would be instituted to deal with the state’s failure to pay out about $207 million that it owes the district. The state, facing perhaps its worst fiscal crisis ever, is short on money and the comptroller is holding the money back, says Illinois State Board of Education spokesperson Mary Fergus.

But this year’s cuts will pale in comparison to what Huberman is planning for next year–including possible cuts to charter schools. 

“Everything is on the table,” including after-school programs, sports, charters and early education, says spokesperson Monique Bond. She also confirms that Huberman will be looking to teachers for savings. 

“We have already run out of options,” Bond says. “We are facing a very dire situation.”

Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, says the district is engaged in political finger-pointing, blaming teachers for the budget crisis. To institute layoffs or withhold raises because of the budget crisis, CPS would have to declare a fiscal emergency and reopen negotiations with the union.

“With all the things they’re going to cut, they’ll still have a deficit. So what’s the point?” says Stewart. “They’re trying to panic people, destroying the already-fragile morale of teachers and students. Politics is the only game they know how to play.”

Huberman and his staff have reportedly been meeting with state lawmakers and others to talk about options. 

A major surprise is that Huberman would look to charter schools, the centerpiece of the district’s Renaissance 2010 program, for savings. Last year, the district sent off $270 million to charters. 

Under state law, the district must give charters between 75 and 125 percent of what they spend on students in traditional schools. Currently, the district gives charter high schools the same amount as it spends per student; charter elementary schools receive slightly less. 

Carlos Perez, director of policy for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, says he’s heard nothing of changes in spending on charters. He makes the point that charters are already under-funded because they must pay rent and upkeep on facilities, and rely on foundations and fundraisers to meet their budgets.

State Senator Kimberly Lightford, a member of the Education Committee, says that Huberman and his staff have tried unsuccessfully to meet with her several times over the last week and have already scheduled a meeting for next week.

Lightford says she would not be too bothered by trims in money provided to charter schools, given that they raise outside money. However, she would be disturbed by teacher cuts. “I am not only concerned about teachers being unemployed, but more so about the direct impact on the learning of students,” Lightford says, noting the likely increase in class sizes. 

Among the things that Huberman is telling state lawmakers and officials is that he can no longer fill in spots where they have reduced funding, Bond says. This past year, state categorical funding for bilingual education and early childhood education was cut by about $20 million. 

Rather than trim those programs, this year Huberman found other money to make up for the loss. But, next year, if the categorical grants are cut again, those programs most likely will suffer, Bond says.

But Fergus notes the state is also in bad shape. Next Thursday, the Illinois State Board of Education will have a meeting in which members will discuss how to deal with a hole of about $1 billion. “So it is not good for us either,” she says.