Brizard asks for flexibility in using after-school money for extended day

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CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard wants to use federal money currently reserved for after-school programs and tutoring to expand the school day.

On Friday, he met with U.S. Senators Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, and Michael Bennett, a Democrat from Colorado, at Skinner North Elementary School, one of the 13 schools that has tacked 90 extra minutes onto the school day.

Bennett, the former school superintendent in Denver, was there to advocate for his bill to allow federal 21st Century Learning grants to be used for extended school learning time, rather than only after-school programs.

This year, CPS got $5.8 million in 21st Century Learning grants.

Community organizations also are eligible for 21st Century grants. In recent years, organizations like Umoja Student Development Corporation and Aspira Inc. of Illinois have gotten grants to work in CPS high schools. It is unclear how much such organizations got last year and whether Bennett’s bill would give CPS any power over grants to community organizations.

 “School districts ought to have the flexibility,” said Bennett, noting that the country has too many students who don’t graduate from high school.

Brizard later mentioned that he also wants to be able to shift after-school tutoring funds provided for struggling students through the No Child Left Behind Act to the regular school day. CPS received $59 million this year in these Supplemental Educational Services (SES) funds.

CPS would probably need a waiver to use SES money during the day. CPS spokespeople did not know whether one was in the works, and Brizard was unavailable.

“We want them to be integrated so that instead of offering these programs to some of the students after school, we can offer them to all of them during the day,” Brizard said.

The request for flexibility comes as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Brizard look for ways to pay for a longer school day despite a budget deficit.

A new state law gave the Chicago Board of Education the power to make a unilateral decision about the length of the day, but this change in work hours must wait until in the Chicago Teachers Union contract is opened, which won’t happen until next year.

However, after being offered bonuses and $150,000 in extra cash for the school, teachers at 13 schools voted to approve a contract waiver to extend the day by 90 minutes at their school. 

At Skinner North, Brizard, Kirk and Bennett sat in a circle with some parents whose students attend a school that has lengthened the school day. They told the officials that the extended hours take pressure off teachers to “fit everything in,” as one mother put.

Parent Leonard Rau noted that  Skinner North is not a typical CPS school.  Located at the western edge of the Gold Coast, in what used to be the Cabrini Green Housing Developments, Skinner North has a high degree of parent involvement, and many students come into the school testing at a high level.

In order to qualify for a 21st Century Learning grant, schools must have an enrollment that is at least 40 percent children who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches. Last year, Skinner North had about 27 percent. CPS’ average is 84 percent.

Also, at the press conference, Kirk said he was working with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to expand charter schools.