State moving ahead with plan for special ed cuts in Chicago

Print More

Members of a task force on special education said Monday they were not ready to move forward with a proposal that would change the way CPS’ state special education is funding, but a state board committee is pressing ahead with the plan, including a proposal to slash the budget next year.

The task force spent three hours discussing a report that concludes the state’s special education funding system is inequitable because Chicago receives more than its share of money. 

Members of a task force on special education said Monday they were not ready to move forward with a proposal that would change the way CPS’ state special education is funding, but a state board committee is pressing ahead with the plan, including a proposal to slash the budget next year. 

The task force spent three hours discussing a report that concludes the state’s special education funding system is inequitable because Chicago receives more than its share of money. 

According to the report, CPS gets twice the amount for each special education student as other school districts in the state. The report takes on CPS’ state special education block grant. CPS gets a lump sum of about $454 million from the state each year; while all other school districts bill the state for services. The report takes on CPS’ state special education block grant.

But after members decided to delay a final recommendation, they were surprised, at the end of the meeting, to find out that the Illinois State Board of Education’s Finance and Audit Committee was already preparing for major changes. 

The January report of the Finance and Audit Committee calls for Chicago’s special education block grant to be reduced by 25 percent annually for three years, a cut that amounts to $54 million next year and over $200 million by 2013. In 2013, CPS would no longer receive a block grant but instead, would have to bill the state for services.

Rod Estvan, an organizer with the group Access Living, brought the situation to their attention during the public comment portion of the meeting in Springfield. “This is not a theoretical discussion,” he told members of the task force, which was created by legislators. “There is a formal proposal out there.” 
Kathleen Gibbons, special assistant in the CPS law department, noted that in the state’s settlement of a federal lawsuit on mainstreaming of CPS’ special education students, officials from the Illinois State Board of Education promised to let the district continue receiving the block grant, allowing CPS more spending flexibility.

Since then, Gibbons said, CPS has made strides in mainstreaming, including providing services in neighborhood schools for 80 percent of severely disabled students.

“ISBE could face sanctions from a federal judge if these changes are made,” she said.

Deborah Duskey, head of special services for CPS, added that the cuts recommended by the Finance and Audit Committee would be “catastrophic.”

Task force members seemed surprised and miffed by the revelation that ISBE was already moving forward with the cuts and changing the funding scheme. Francis Carroll, who spent many years working for CPS and most recently served as a University of Illinois trustee, pressed ISBE staff about what was going on.

Elizabeth Hanselman, assistant superintendent for ISBE for special education and support services, told task force members that what the Finance and Audit Committee was doing had nothing to do with the work of the task force.